A few months ago a reader of this blog recommended to me Meg Moseley’s When Sparrows Fall. It’s the first Christian romance novel–the first romance novel of any kind really–that I’ve read. I loved it.
Part of the love was because of the occasional groaners that were so riotously awful I just had to share them with whoever was in my proximity. There are several great ones, but here’s my favorite:
Jack’s shirt sleeves were rolled up, revealing his wrist bones and a portion of the dark hair on his arms, a particularly masculine beauty that sent a shiver to her stomach. (p. 268)
And there’s more, much more. But that’s not by a long shot why I really liked this book. When she’s not elucidating the allure of the male antibrachium, Moseley actually tells a compelling story and occasionally lays out some elegant prose. So as not to spoil the plot for anyone who might read it, let me simply say here that the book is about a 34 year-old widow with six kids living out in the boonies who is part of a cult-like patriarchal Christian sect. Over the course of the novel the mother, named Miranda, gradually learns to loosen up and to move her family toward the Christian mainstream. This process is facilitated by Jack, he of the shiver-inducing wrist bones, who comes to her aid in a time of need and in the process falls in love with the mother and her children.
So it’s a gripping story, with plot points tantalizingly revealed by disciplined hints and clues, and lots of deliciously awful romantic asides. But that’s still not why I really like this book. Moseley goes deep in this novel into the intricacies of the Quiverfull movement (which I discussed here). The romance is I suppose what attracts the audience, but the real heart of this book is Moseley’s horror at the excesses of the Christian patriarchy movement and her desire to use her storytelling skills to illustrate its pathologies and to valorize the efforts some women make to leave it behind. At the end of the book Moseley thanks Hillary McFarland, whose book Quivering Daughters and accompanying website have become an inspiration for women leaving patriarchal contexts.
In Moseley’s telling, there is the majority homeschooling movement, made up of normal people doing normal things, and then there is the patriarchy wing, which gives everyone else a bad name. Here are some thoughts Moseley gives to Jack as he comes to understand the weirdness of Miranda’s brand of homeschooling:
If he were a normal homeschooler, he’d be furious with the few who gave the whole movement a bad name. Not all homeschoolers were nut bags, but many of the nut bags in a certain off brand of Christianity were homeschoolers.
The fringe elements weren’t unified. Some groups were more extreme than others. Many of them were nearly mainstream except for eschewing much of modern technology and requiring beards. Or forbidding them. Others maintained Web sites and discussion boards that gave a clear picture of their teachings, and some of those teachings turned Jack’s stomach.
Some deprived women of higher education and the right to vote. Some favored white supremacy, couched in patriotic terms. The common denominator was a focus on the home. Homeschool, home church, home birth–with the father as the absolute ruler of the household. He was the patriarch, and woe to the wife or child who defied him. (p. 97-98)
Peculiarities of Miranda’s family include a total prohibition against fiction, caffeine, refined sugar, nicknames, microwaves, and store bought clothes for the girls. (Jack notes that child clothing reveals a “bit of gender discrimination afoot. The boys, in their store-bought jackets and jeans, blended in more easily than the girls did in their home-sewn dresses and voluminous capes.” (p.62)). But as the story progresses the family opens up, becoming more like another family they know, whose homeschooling is characterized by “Individuality. Independence. Learning.” (p. 212) They join the masses of “good, sane homeschoolers. They’re everywhere. Big families, little families. Conservative and not so conservative.” (p.291)
Moseley knows her way around homeschooling. She and her husband homeschooled their three children, finishing in 2009 when her youngest graduated high school. Little details from her long experience in the Christian homeschool world give her account a compelling verisimilitude that I’ve seldom seen in the fictional accounts I’ve reviewed thus far for this blog. It also lets her get in digs when she wants to. Moseley clearly doesn’t like the authoritarian parenting strategies favored by some conservative homeschoolers. Toward the end of her novel we learn that the book that got Miranda’s family started on the slippery slope to patriarchy was “Raising Your Family God’s Way–Heaven in Your Home“, a clear allusion to the controversial Ezzo book.
Despite the obvious criticism of Christian homeschooling’s right wing, the book remains deeply pious and reverent, with plenty of inspiration and heart-warming moments. Moseley’s main agenda is to try to show that true Christianity is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and in that she succeeds admirably.