On Two Stories By Sister Mary Gilbert And John Updike

Among the stories in the 1962 volume of The Best American Short Stories, published by Houghton Mifflin, are two whose themes are related to religious faith.  One of them, “The Model Chapel,” was written by Sister Mary Gilbert and has to do with the raising of money to build a new college chapel.  It begins with the use of plastic pigs (from a savings and loan company) as receptacles for donated cash—the convent nuns like the idea—but it isn’t long before an examining priest mandates that the pigs be removed.  This is one of the narrative details in a story focused, with mild comedy, on the dangers to spirituality:  The assiduous work of chapel-financing undermines the nuns’ spiritual devotion. . . Sister Mary writes (or wrote) poetry, and although her prose here is not poetic, it is plainly admirable.

In John Updike’s remarkable “Pigeon Feathers,” 15-year-old David Kern is worried over the question of God and the boy’s future beyond the grave.  His mother knows something is wrong, but at last all he gets from her are words of philosophical absurdity.  She tells David she believes in God, only to subsequently state that God was made by Man!  What’s more, what he hears from his minister is no better.  Finally, David eyes the colors on the dead bodies of pigeons he has had to shoot, and there is an epiphany—a surprising, universalist epiphany about immortality and the Deity’s creation.

Published in 1961, these fine fictions are worth seeking out.  Remember: The Best American Short Stories (1962).   

 

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