by Rachel Rafelman
Two WOMEN acquaintances motor through the south of France in Clive Doucet`s The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene (Black Moss, 70 pages, $12.95 paper), a tightly written and poignant novella about love, loss, belief, and survival. Jane, a painter in her early 20s, is looking for artistic inspiration, but also has a "notion to say a prayer in the grotto" where Mary Magdalene lived. Melody, a divorcee in her early 40s, is a virulently lapsed Catholic struggling unsuccessfully with her extravagantly erotic fantasy life and her growing preference for a solitary existence. They share a fascination with the architecture and iconography of Catholicism, and with Mary Magdalene, who allegedly lived in the area.
The turning point in their day-long outing, and the thematic core of the book, occurs when Melody forces their idle conversation over coffee into ad hominem rancour. Jane can understand nothing, according to the suddenly furious Melody, because like most people she believes in nothing. Despite her anger, Jane realizes that the older woman has "struck a dull chord she could barely hear"; and Melody, surprised by the intensity of her own outburst, is compelled to admit that she no longer believes.
For both women, the journey to Mary Magdalene`s grotto is a personal and rewarding pilgrimage: in the grotto, Melody feels a small prayer flutter "around at the edges of her consciousness!` and Jane, feeling happy and calm, knows she will begin painting the next day.