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The Spiral Garden

by Anne Hines

In The Spiral Garden, Toronto writer Anne Hines takes the Biblical character Ruth and gives her a decidedly modern slant. Meet Ruth Broggan, a divorced, empty-nester mother of two and Christian minister who is searching for the answers to the age-old questions that plagued her namesake: Why must we struggle? Why must we experience loneliness and pain? Why must we die? Staging a kind of one-woman bed-in, she locks herself inside the manse (the house provided by the church for the minister) and refuses to leave until God not only coughs up some answers, but speaks to her directly.

Naturally Ruth’s dwindling, aged congregation doesn’t know what to make of it all, but then neither does Ruth. Her confusion is precisely what the book is all about. Dividing the tale into three sections, Hines presents her story via correspondence and journal entries between Ruth – whose sermons reference everything from Dante to Planet of the Apes – and the people who satellite around her life. There’s Kit, a poet and lesbian friend who’s convinced that a stint in her bed would cure Ruth’s woes; Mark, priest and school chum, currently in religious rehab at the Vatican; and Buddhist daughter Kelly. Hines distills her impressive academic, scriptural, and literary knowledge into a provocative cocktail accessible to the uninitiated and spiritually immersed alike. The novel zips from laugh-out-loud humour to profundity and back again.

Though Ruth ultimately finds spiritual clarity – only after attracting international media attention and throngs of supporters – the reader may not share her revelation. That’s of no consequence, really, as The Spiral Garden is an intoxicating mix that comes on strong, induces headiness, and finishes with a memory of how enjoyable it was while it lasted.