Magazine October 16, 2017, Issue

Binding Wounds

Novelist Alice McDermott. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The Ninth Hour, by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus, 256 pp., $26)

Nearly 25 years ago, Ron Hansen’s novel Mariette in Ecstasy made convent life fodder for great literature. Hansen’s exquisite, prose-poetic sentences dressed a scintillating plot: Mariette, a beautiful 17-year-old postulant with the Sisters of the Crucifixion, is warned: “Don’t try to be exceptional; simply be a good nun.” God clearly has other plans, as “blood scribbles down her wrists and ankles and scrawls like red handwriting on the floor.” Her stigmata are scandalous. The nuns reject her.

Hansen’s novel considers what happens when habitual devotion cinctures the heart from accepting wonder and mystery. The Ninth Hour, the newest novel from National

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