US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Maura Weiler explores God and guilt in 'Contrition'

By Carol Zapata-Whelan | Print this pagePrint |
When Los Angeles tabloid reporter Dorie McKenna chases a story that leads her to her long lost twin in Big Sur, we are pulled into Maura Weiler’s fast-paced, arresting debut novel. Contrition spins off the classic tale of opposites separated at a birth: Two 20-something daughters of a now-deceased famous abstract artist who gave away one of his newborn twins—marked by a birth injury—shortly after his poet wife’s death in a delivery room. 
Dorie, raised by loving adoptive parents, is a smoking, drinking, Twinkie-sneaking falsifier of news for The Comet. Her twin, Sister Catherine, was reared by her tormented father and is now a cloistered nun whose vows of silence yield ethereal art. Dorie’s efforts to process family secrets—and her craving for connection and identity via Catherine—prompt her to enter the convent under false pretenses to write her sister’s story. The result is a dramatic reversal of fortune for both sisters.
Along with humorous caricatures—an amoral tabloid editor; a glitzy, no-nonsense art agent; a Hollywood star—Weiler gives a fascinating and reverent view of religious life. She draws a tender portrait of eminently human women whose life of self-abnegation and prayer is not above a feisty game of ping-pong. Through Dorie’s efforts—both noble and ignoble—to profile her twin, Weiler’s novel leaves us with philosophical questions about family, vocations, faith, guilt, art, and what it is that we do, exactly, in the name of God.
Weiler gives readers a page-turning story distinguished by elegant writing, humor, and grace. The novel’s unexpected stunner of a conclusion makes clear the significance of her one-word title. In Contrition, narrator Dorie’s writing, like Sister Catherine’s art, might be seen in T.S. Eliot’s words as a “raid on the inarticulate”—a desperate effort to explain our inexplicable guilt for the sin of being human.
This review appeared in the July 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 80, No. 7, page 43).
Monday, July 6, 2015