Practice of Perfection

28 April 2010

The Practice of Perfection
by Mary Frances Coady
Coteau Books
Reviewed by Gail Jansen
$18.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-400-2

Perfection is an attribute few of us try to attain, but in the inner sanctum of a convent, it is above all else, something that is strived for. But who are these women whose aim is perfection? And how does the transformation from ordinary girl to reverent nun take place? These are the compelling mysteries regarding religious life as it was back in 1959 that Mary Frances Coady looks to unravel in her first book of short fiction, The Practice of Perfection.

A collection of integrated stories told from separate points of view, each story looks deeply into the hearts and minds of young novice nuns, following them as they go about their day’s observances. A stylistic technique employed by Coady allows readers to truly see the struggle, doubt and perseverance each novice experiences from the inside out. She shows us through her writing that even as they aim for God’s perfection, beneath their habits lie the ordinary human failings that exist in us all.

Evoking the stark and simple lifestyle of those cloistered with unembellished words and repeated images, Coady bestows an air of humanity upon the search for a religious life and sparks readers to reflect inwardly upon their own lives.

Not just for Catholics, even those who view themselves as non-spiritual will be able to see the lessons of human nature embedded in the narrative of The Practice of Perfection, without ever feeling like they are being preached to. While the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity taken by the novices may not be of a reader’s own choosing, understanding the reasons behind those vows and their rationale as written by Coady offers all a gentle reminder of why it is that someone would want to practice reaching for that unattainable perfection.


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