Corinne starts out strongly, with brilliantly-observed and realistic portraits of its teen characters as they struggle to walk a fine line between being worldly and being godly. But when we flash forward, the characters lose the plot and the book loses its delicate balance. Morrow’s writing compels, but the book stalls and the end result is sometimes true to life, sometimes bizarre, sometimes funny, but undeniably fascinating.
Kansas natives Corinne Callahan and Enoch Miller have known each other since they were kids. Both are a part of a fundamentalist church (which is never named nor given a denomination) in the 1980s; Enoch is in line to become an elder someday, having been born into the church; Corinne’s family was ‘saved’ and is looked upon as something akin to a sinful charity case by many. Worse, Corinne is far too worldly for most members of the church. She has anything but godly feelings when she looks at Enoch (many of Corinne’s thoughts are not Godly; she is checked out of the church as she is to any social group she might fit in with). She thinks Enoch is cute enough despite his outward flaws, and he’s a way to get back at her childhood rival Shannon Frank, who eventually becomes engaged to Enoch, to boot.
When the Millers take Corinne and her family in after Corinne’s mother loses the house after her father leaves, they’re stuck living in the Miller’s basement. Corinne is only a teenager who yearns to do secular things – like watch the Smurfs – but her mother won’t allow it; unfortunately for Mrs. Miller and Corinne’s mother, worldliness seeps into their shared home anyway in the form of secret kisses, sitcoms and trips to the roller rink. The two families begin spending Saturday nights together eating pizza and playing games. This bonds Enoch and Corinne together; soon the two single mothers feel free to leave the kids alone. Time passes; the eighties become the nineties, and Corinne and Enoch are suddenly eighteen. Eventually, Saturdays are for more than eating pizza and instead turn into an occasion to kiss and hold hands. Then they step over the line and have sex on Enoch’s couch. Enoch confesses and Corinne is excommunicated from the church and her family, forced to sever contact with her mother, two brothers, sister – and Enoch.
Corinne finishes school, moves to Boston, experiences a broken relationship and takes on a job at an ad agency. We flash forward over thirteen years, and Corinne – now in her thirties – has been let back into her family’s home on a conditional basis as her mother has recently had a heart scare and her daughter’s excommunication lies heavily upon her conscience. Her brothers have families of their own and her mother has remarried. Her ebullient sister-in-law, Alicia, loves Corinne and treats her like a human being. And then, during one Sunday dinner Alicia brings news that Enoch has gotten divorced. Not only divorced, but his wife (who, yes, turned out to be Shannon) left him for another woman, which means he’s no longer a church elder and he’s been forced to switch congregations. Corinne’s brother Shawn has taken Enoch under his wing and he’s spending a lot of time with Alicia and Shawn and their kids. Corinne and Enoch begin to bond once more, leading to a romantic connection which might see the two of them bounced from their family’s insular world for good.
Corinne suffers from a couple of narrative choices which grated on me over the length of the book. The foremost of these is the author’s refusal to properly marry the beliefs of her characters to a denomination. The church is Generally Conservative – women are subservient to men, they wear long skirts, you aren’t supposed to reference magic or watch media featuring kissing. Yet the kids go to public school, which is usually a big no-no for hyper religious sects like these; through ‘wordly’ contact with people there, the kids develop opinions that any hyper conservative type might frown on. It was hard to track the belief system here because of this level of vagueness.
But this seems like an intentional conceit so that the book can point out how repressive certain religious sects can be without directly blaming one. This allows Enoch to grow up to be the kind of man who totally accepts his ex-wife is a lesbian (he even brags to Corinne about liking The Indigo Girls!) and has enlightened views about pop culture without having experienced much outside influence. Corinne’s inner turmoil, meanwhile, is far more realistic, because she knows she cannot judge others the way she has been judged. At the age of thirty, they both act like overdramatic teenagers, but that might be a result of their upbringing – the book does not explore this. And Corinne often lacks a rich interior life beyond yearning for Enoch. Once she does – at the very tail end of the book – it throws the happy ending we’ve been given into a chilling new light. But these are two overgrown kids who are hard to dislike in general, despite their unrealistic behavior.
The book is overlong by at least 200 pages, and just past the halfway point it starts to become a montage of Corinne and Enoch learning how to bang each other, followed by wedding planning, followed by more banging. It very much feels like the end result of an Amish romance author writing full-on sex scenes. At least until that ending.
I wish Corinne had been about Enoch and Corinne’s teenage years, which are delivered with realistic zest. The ending, too, is chilling, and open, and hints at future dissatisfaction for poor Corinne, who is neither flesh nor fowl in her fundamentalist world. In the battle between the heart, the lions, the soul and the mind, the book proves that there often isn’t a clear winner. For the reader, it’s an even draw.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier