It’s fitting that the heroine of Contrition is a bit of an art voyeur because I felt like a voyeur reading this novel. The reader is treated to a glimpse of a secret world and a highly personal transformation of the protagonist, Dorie McKenna.
Dorie has discovered, on the death of her adoptive parents, that her deceased biological father was a famous artist and that she has a twin sister living in a convent. Dorie is a tabloid journalist living in Venice Beach and feels about as far removed from the life of a nun as a person can get. But she feigns interest in a cloistered life in order to gain access to her sister and her sister’s amazing artwork. Dorie grapples with her deception as she considers using her sister’s art and identity to further her own floundering career.
Weiler takes us on a fascinating behind-the-scenes story of a modern California convent, such as this one the author visited. But perhaps even more fascinating is the journey on which Dorie embarks to discover who she is, her faith, and where art fits into both.
Her twin, Catherine, creates beautiful religiously-inspired paintings and chooses to keep her artwork hidden, as it is her form of worship. This novel forces the question, what is the purpose of art? Is it for the sake of the producer or consumer, the artist or the audience? As Dorie is a writer grappling with the same issue, I like that the question applies to all art forms and as a writer myself, I can relate most in this way.
Like Dorie, I have sometimes worried that my writing replaces living an authentic life for the obsession with creating an imitation of life. In the book, the character articulates it best with the following, “I preferred not to commit words to paper or computer screen, would rather have skipped telling tales of life, choosing instead to live it. But I couldn’t help myself. Terrifying as it was, this recording of the world going by and my speculation about it was often the time I felt most alive. Was it possible to live life in an act of creation based on the mere observation of life?”
Can the creation of works of art, whether those are paintings, books, musical pieces, plays, or dances, be not just a substitute for a life, but a life itself? And how much does the size of our audience validate our work? Is it even necessary?
I feel this sentiment extends as well into the life of a nun in a convent. Is it possible to live life as a servant of God when a nun remains cloistered, her main act of service being private worship and prayer?
Dorie is flawed and at times, frustrated me with her muddled and often inexplicable reasoning for exposing her sister’s artwork to the world. Though appropriate to a book about a person contemplating joining a convent, Dorie spends a great deal of time alone in thought, which slowed the story for me in a few places. However, I enjoyed watching her struggle with her morality, her faith, and the concept of art. Dorie is real, relatable, and likable in her imperfections.
Weiler creates some interesting characters in unique situations and settings that will stay with the reader long after they’ve finished the book. I was fortunate enough to have met the author at a writing conference and she was fantastic! Check out her website: http://www.mauraweiler.com/
I highly recommend this original and satisfying novel.