Robina Williams,
Jerome & the Seraph
(Twilight Times, 2002)

Friar Jerome is dead. He finds this surprising and unpleasant; but worse, the afterlife is boring, God's nowhere in evidence and the only one who comes to visit him is the cat from his old friary. That last bit is perhaps less surprising, to anyone who has a cat in their life; but it's still not terribly pleasant, especially when the cat begins talking. It's only the first of the things to surprise him in Jerome & the Seraph.

The cat, Quant, begins to give Jerome snippets of advice that lead him on somewhat interesting adventures, beginning with the friary and ending in levels of the afterlife. The advice is always incomplete enough to get Jerome in some degree of trouble. But the real unpleasantness comes when Jerome makes his spiritual breakthrough into the afterlife. The cat then begins serving as Jerome's spiritual adviser; and Jerome, a friar, and a man who has presumably spent his adult life considering questions of faith, begins acting as the cat's idiot.

There's no way to justify his behavior. Anyone who's read the Chronicles of Narnia or has taken a basic philosophy course has already examined the questions that Jerome and Quant spend pages debating in Jerome & the Seraph. These tired epiphanies might be excusable if the debate between Jerome and Quant were challenging or in any way novel; but since they amount to little more than exchanges of "No way!" "Way!" in lengthy, repeated form, they're intolerable.

This pedantry is more annoying because Robina Williams is not a bad writer. When she's not straining to share an epiphany or hammering her points dull with rounds of rhetoric, her prose is light, entertaining and even heartwarming. In the rare moments of daily life in the friary, when Quant, Jerome and their tiresome philosophies have retired to the afterlife, mere mortal men deal with mere mortal issues with an infectious sense of humor and a rare appreciation for the world of the senses. A brief attempt at reconciliation between two of the minor characters speaks more eloquently about the gaps between human understanding and the capacity for grace than all Quant's eye-rolling.

Robina Williams has a lot to say about faith and the world of the spirit. Like a lot of otherwise interesting people, she also has a lot to say about her favorite cat. Skip the conversations with Quant, spend some time with friars and you may find some grace in Jerome & the Seraph.

by Sarah Meador
2 September 2006

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