Kristen Heitzmann,
The Still of Night
(Bethany House, 2003)

The Still of Night is a gripping novel written by Kristen Heitzmann, who has written 10 other novels including A Rush of Wings and The Tender Vine. She creates realistic and believable characters, who quickly ensnare us in their lives and emotional problems, making it hard to put the book down -- I don't often read this style of fiction, but the author had me hooked from the first paragraph.

There is a dramatic prologue, and then we are introduced to Jill Runyan, who teaches intellectually and emotionally disabled children, using her teaching skills to educate them in life's basics and using frequent prayer when things get rough in the classroom. She is at loggerheads with her departmental boss, who strongly disagrees with her on both professional issues and the matter of her faith -- and a keenly anticipated date with her policeman boyfriend falls apart at the seams as it becomes apparent that her faith causes polarity differences in her private as well as professional life. We quickly ascertain that Jill is going through a particularly rocky time, and yet her faith does not comfort her; rather, she questions it and wonders increasingly why she has no joy in her life, why the happiness she should experience eludes her. She remembers 15 years ago, being so happy with Morgan, the guy most likely to succeed, and wonders how she, the prom queen, came to be perceived as an ice queen, because she won't sleep with her boyfriend. In the still of the night, she is torn apart with grief and memories, guilt and misery, wondering whether her daughter's eyes are like hers, or like Morgan's.

We then meet Morgan, outwardly successful, a corporative troubleshooter with tailored suits, handmade shirts, multi-million dollar home on the coast, a car for every mood -- and a drink problem, beset by personal demons, memories still festering in bitterness at the knowledge that the girl he loved terminated their child's life without giving him a chance to marry her and make a family, 15 years of pushing himself for success in one field to compensate for failing to protect both Jill and their child. Morgan is rubbing salt in his old wounds by visiting his brother Rick and Rick's pregnant wife, as he is still deeply attracted to his sister-in-law, the only woman to come close to his affections after Jill, but who never returned his love. His solution-finding skills extend to helping his family, even when Noelle left Rick, Morgan helped them get back together rather than trying to separate them for good. His life is full of the trappings of success and a genuine underlying goodness, but his heart is empty and still chilled from his teenage love affair.

Morgan and Jill meet again at a high school fundraiser, Morgan torn in two at his feelings of betrayal and disgust for the woman who still arouses desire and love at a glance; and Jill astonished and hurt at the depth of Morgan's disdain for her. The brief encounter foreshadows a rollercoaster of turmoil, when Jill receives a letter from the adoptive parents of their daughter -- the daughter Morgan thinks died unborn -- begging for help, begging for Jill to submit to a test to see if her bone marrow will help Kelsey in her fight against leukemia.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, harrowing though it is in places, and it was interesting for this devotee of myth and magic to read about the mystical and magical aspects of Christianity. While the core theme of the book is faith, the author is not heavy-handed with it, and her writing is skilled and emotive, the story is neither too fantastical, morbid nor overly romantic and anyone who enjoys a good, multi-layered plot will surely enjoy this novel, as long as they are not rabidly anti-Christian. I will be looking out for her other books and can highly recommend this latest.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 2 April 2005

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