Married twenty years to Thomas and living in Nashville with their two children, Maggie is drawn ineluctably into a passionate affair while still fiercely committed to her husband and family. What begins as a platonic intellectual and spiritual exchange between writer Maggie and poet James, gradually transforms into an emotional and erotically charged bond that challenges Maggie’s sense of loyalty and morality, drawing her deeper into the darkness of desire.
There are some moments toward the end of this short novel that makes the reader pause and think about the way the world is structured, the way relationships and marriage works, and how everything has a purpose. The novel focuses on Maggie, a devoted Christian woman who has had a long marriage, two kids, and now finds herself emailing and talking to James, a poet whom she initially writes to because she admires his work. The relationship gets convoluted, and they end up meeting. The plot of the story is nothing that has not been heard or read before, and the structure, in form of emails, flashbacks, and stream of conscious type explorations, is nothing new either. What makes Fire Sermon really stick out is the writing, the insights and philosophy, and the sheer beauty of some of the thoughts and insights.
Two thoughts have really stuck out in my mind since reading this, both of them pertain to Maggie and how she views God within this situation. She has met with James, she has stayed with Thomas, and she is wrestling with whether or not to confess her indiscretions. She thinks there has to be the reason for her attraction for a man outside of her marriage, and this could be God’s purpose for marriage as a whole: to narrow your focus so that you can appreciate and enjoy the things outside of this focus a little more. This idea is one of those I am not sure I grasp completely, but it has left a lasting impression on me, and I am continuing to think about it days later.
The second comes from one of the last paragraphs in the novel.
God. Who neither slumbers nor sleeps, who looks not as man looks, who sees the guiltiest swervings of the weaving heart: You never loved me as you did last night. As you do now. (p. 201)
This alludes to the night that Maggie and James spend together, and there are two things that really stick out about this passage. One is that she feels as if God, even though He sees the imperfection of the situation, gives her one of the best nights of her life, even though it is a horrible sin. Infidelity is the only excusable reason for divorce in the Bible, and even though this is exactly what Maggie and James do, Maggie feels like God understands and gave her exactly what she needs. The second thought is that God does love her more in a certain instance than as a whole, that she feels as if this entire situation was given to her out of God’s love, and she is grateful.
I am not a religious person, and I do not really have opinions on whether this is right or wrong, but I do find it to be an interesting idea. I do feel as if the religious aspect of this novel could be a turnoff to some, but I also feel like Maggie’s Christianity is not the religion of the Evangelicals. Hers is more of a personal relationship, based in the sermons and philosophies of the old thinkers and not of the Megachurch set. This makes the themes of God and relationships with God much more tolerable. Add this to Quatro’s beautiful sentences and passages, and Fire Sermon is an incredible experience.