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“Are we ever going to meet the father?” one student wanted to know. “I mean, she yearns for him and he gets compared to Christ, but we never see him directly. We’re, like, told how to feel about him. If he doesn’t ever show up, I’m going to feel cheated.”
Sister Ursula dutifully noted this criticism, but you had only to look at the old woman to know that the father was not going to show up. Anybody who felt cheated by this could just join the club.
I first discovered Richard Russo sometime in the early 2000’s when I read his Pulitzer Prize winning novel Empire Falls. I recall enjoying it and went on to read at least a couple more of his novels, but then he fell by the wayside.
When I chose Catholicism as a topic for my 2016 Deal Me In project, I didn’t realize I would run into “The Whore’s Child”, a short story by Russo, but I’m extremely glad I did!
Sister Ursula, an elderly nun, tells what appears to be the story of her childhood in an assignment for a writing class she has decided to take. The fact that its an advanced writing class with previous requirements that she has not met does not seem to bother her in the least. The title of this story gives a clue as to what her childhood was like.
As the reader, we get Sister Ursula’s story and the critique from the other students in the class who are judging it only on the basis of literary narrative as opposed to the true and sometimes gut wrenching life of a little girl.
The aspect of the story that I find wonderful is that it’s told from the point of view of the class professor. This puts the merging of fact and fiction, art and life, and the question of which is more true, at the center of the story and makes it one of the best reading experiences I’ve encountered in a while.
This story is included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. I read this when I selected the Six of Clubs for Week 51 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. I can safely predict that next week, Week 52, will be the Seven of Hearts and I will be reading Hollis Summers’ Kentucky story “The Vireo’s Nest”.