||Dec 13, 2008
Barnes & Noble.com
Andie Andrews, Author & Advocate
A mystical love story that bridges heaven and earth.
Helen Baldwin, a Baptist preacher’s young wife, was raised in one of the poorest regions of southern Appalachia. When her ambitious husband is sent to plant a church in a bustling city in New Jersey, she is expected to create a new life and identity for herself as a woman of social grace and stature. Instead, she accepts a job at the local soup kitchen where she finds a sense of place among the soup kitchen’s homeless and working poor guests. Helen’s growing attraction to one guest in particular, an enigmatic Vietnam veteran, sets the stage for Helen’s struggle to discern between light and darkness – and leads her to embark upon a journey that will force her to confront her own demons from the past.
Incognito appearances in and around the soup kitchen by St. Francis of Assisi (the narrator), St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and other well-known friends of God, turn Saints in the City into an entertaining and meaningful exploration of the idea that the veil between Heaven and earth is thin indeed – and that we are called to “be” what we all intrinsically are: modern saints, often formed in tragic ways.
While it is at its heart a mystical and romantic journey, Saints in the City is also a provocative parable about the pitfalls of moral judgment, love as a powerful, binding force between persons of all social classes and conditions, and the idea that restoration is possible for all people, no matter what is the root of their brokenness or shame.
She was glad that she was alone in the house, free from the burden of sharing her thoughts about everything that had just happened. Todd had recently moved his office to the new church house on Maple Street. For Helen, it was a welcome change that made their house feel more like a home. She especially liked having the freedom to listen to some of her favorite bluegrass music at volumes that made Todd frown. It was even worse when Helen danced a jig around the living room, inviting Chester to join her after Todd refused. There was something of her spirit in those old mountain tunes with energetic fiddles and plaintive slide guitars that made her grow wistful and sentimental. Life in Dock Watch Hollow had not been all bad. There were times of sheer beauty and bliss, like when she camped out on Rattlesnake Mountain with Joan and Chester on Saturday nights, loaferin’ about and drinking honey wine that the locals forewarned “kissed like a woman and kicked like a mule,” – then heading out to the ridge at mornglom to see the sun rise over the eastern foothills and stand in shimmering pools of pink and gold in cool, breathless wonder.
She hoped Joan would come to visit her someday. She’d sent her cards, one after another at Christmastime, but had never received a response. She didn’t take it personally, knowing that the cost of a stamp and the trip to the post office was often more than a body could bear in any given month. Still, she longed for female companionship, something that had eluded her since moving north. The women in the city were different, Helen noticed, with their tall, pencil-thin heels and confident stride, looking more sparkly than any she’d ever seen before, especially in broad daylight. Back home, such girls were likely to be harlots, or flatlanders in man-suits sent by the coal companies to talk nice to the hillfolk and handout free samples of gourmet coffee and fancy perfume. What they failed to understand was that creek and holler people rejected anything they’d never be able to have twice in a lifetime. That was more torture than treat to them, and Helen was always the first to tell them so. Maybe that’s why she hadn’t made any girlfriends since her arrival. She was unwilling to trust anyone who hid their eyes behind sunglasses as big as fists and lenses as dark as coal. Likewise, she imagined she looked like some kind of freak to them, with her long, unstraightened hair and unsophisticated gait and naked eyes that screamed she was the antichrist of urban chic.
I entered this book, with its cover of St. Francis looking on Times Square, feeling some trepidation. I was afraid a "mystical love story that bridges heaven and earth" would be full of clichés and pat Christian answers. The book is anything but. It is an exciting romance full of unexpected twists that keeps a reader quickly turning pages late into the night.
Helen Baldwin is a Baptist preacher's wife from a poor region of Appalachia. While her ambitious husband is setting up a new church in the city she gets a job at a soup kitchen that includes a table of bitter Vietnam Vets ("...wily elusive, haunting and haunted, fierce and yet fearful of anyone who had not themselves endured the bloodbath that was Vietnam." The characters are genuine and the emotional dilemma heartfelt. Let me add, I am both a Vietnam Vet and someone who years ago spent a night in a San Francisco homeless shelter and all the details this book gives ring true. It is well written, original, imaginative, and the chapter heads are great.
For the most part, this novel will have readers making difficult choices along with Helen Baldwin. Salvation is possible, but never easy--"It [passion] was a truth she was committed to knowing and to experiencing in her lifetime, in her flesh and in her very soul. God help her, she would no longer settle for less." This book dramatizes how difficult the choices are we have to make.
Some books you read for enjoyment but some books really change the way you think and how you live your life. This book is one of the latter. To call this book a "Christian Romance" would do it an injustice as it is so much more. The main character, Helen Baldwin, a preacher's wife, is so skillfully developed by the author, that I felt as if I knew her personally and shared in her struggles. Helen's thought and actions demonstrate a real love for the poor and a genuine understanding of their strife and struggles. She inspires me to want to do more for the "least of my brothers and sisters". The title of the book is no cliché and the characters represent saints we have known and others that are still in the making. I especially appreciate the keen insight the author has given the reader with the reference to the Veterans of the Vietnam War and how acutely we have dismissed their chronic pain and mental anguish. This is the kind of book that once you pick up, it is difficult to put down. I would definitely buy the sequel and I hope the author will consider writing one!
Saints in the City, written by Andie Andrews, introduces us to Helen Baldwin; she is the young wife of a Baptist preacher who has been asked to set up a new church in New Jersey. Helen, feeling completely out of her element, decides to make her contribution by working in the local soup kitchen.
Through the actions and thoughts of Helen, the author takes us through a journey of discovery that joins the spiritual with the nitty-gritty of everyday life. Through the narration of St-Francis of Assisi, we are privy to what we all wish we listened to more often: "that little voice." Indeed, throughout the novel, we meet many of Helen's "guardian angels" in the form of many of the saints in the bible.
This technique of using narrators was the most interesting part of the book for me. I have often been told that every time I do something, I should ask myself "would you do this if the god of your understanding was standing right next to you and watching you do it?" This has always been an interesting question to me and I kept thinking about it as I read the book.
Helen is obviously struggling with her inner issues. But, she is also trying to do a certain amount of "good" in the world and feels at home at the soup kitchen. No good intention goes unpunished, however, and while Helen hopes to find serenity and joy helping others, she ends up meeting a man that will make her question everything she has always believed to be right. Throughout her struggles, we find Helen's guardian angels are there to help her and guide her, if only she is willing to listen.
This book is a very interesting mixture of spirituality, religion, moral commentary and fiction. This is extremely tricky to write about and I think the author did a good job in finding her voice...I enjoyed the author's beautiful writing style. Her prose is full of imagery and I thought it added a wonderful touch of mystic to the book.
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