If the word Faith is in the title, you can figure there’s going to be some discussion of it in the story.
Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale, Lynda Rutledge’s debut novel from Amy Einhorn Books (May 2012), doesn’t tiptoe around the issue. Nor does it stomp. Here’s a little bit about the book from the publisher:
“On the last day of the millennium, sassy Faith Bass Darling decides to have a garage sale. Why is the richest lady in Bass, Texas, a recluse for twenty years, suddenly selling off her worldly possessions? As the townspeople grab up the heirlooms, and the antiques reveal their own secret stories, a cast of characters appears to witness the sale or try to stop it. Before the day is over, they’ll all examine their roles in the Bass family saga, as well as some of life’s most imponderable questions: Do our possessions possess us? What are we without our memories? Is there life after death or second chances here on earth? And is Faith really selling that Tiffany lamp for $1?”
I’ve had the privilege of meeting Rutledge a few times in person at book events, and when I told her I was considering a blog post about the faith aspect of her novel, she grinned. She said she’d be interested to hear what I thought. Her reaction indicated she fully believes readers will make their own interpretations, and they might be completely different from anything she thought or intended as she wrote the book. This is just the kind of book I love to dig into. Serve me literature that makes me think, please.
From page one of Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale to its very last sentence, the subject of faith is clearly pivotal. Take a small town in Texas, where, as in many Texas small towns, the Baptists and the Methodists run pretty much everything, whether directly or indirectly—even the banks. Throw in a slowly dying Episcopal parish and a priest who isn’t sure about anything anymore. Add a heaping cup of tragedy and a character named Faith, and you’re going to have to deal with the topic.
Faith Bass Darling has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and time has evolved into a new continuum. One minute she’s in the present; the next, she’s in the past. And she’s surrounded by all the worldly goods her family—the family who basically ran the town and the bank for years (along with the Baptists and Methodists)—collected. These possessions, some with incalculable monetary value, have become more than their physical properties. They have defined each family member and are the impetuses that changed the course of their collective lives.
Faith has clung to these things too long. She believes she hears the voice of God—a voice, in fact, that she hasn’t heard in more than 20 years for reasons not quite clear to herself or the reader at first—telling her she will soon die, and she must rid herself of the things that have held her hostage in her huge, lonely mansion. She drags them out to her yard, one by one, and practically gives them away, much to the delight of Bass, Texas’s curious population—except for a few characters with more vested interests, whether legal or emotional, who try to convince her otherwise.
Strains of familiar passages of the Bible tickled the back of my mind as I read this novel—both the first time, all the way through, and again after I turned the last page and went back to re-read the first few. While searching for the phrases that floated in my memory, I found Matthew 19:21 (from The Message, which is a paraphrase of the original Greek and Hebrew scriptures rather than a word-for-word translation):
“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.”
It could have been that one. But maybe it was these:
Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:24-26, also from The Message)
Yes, it might have been those. Especially as I consider the rest of the story, where Faith Bass Darling—not to mention those around her—wrestles with the events that led to her being alone and lonely, surrounded only by her beautiful possessions instead of by the husband who died under mysterious circumstances, or the son who died under tragic ones, or the daughter who disappeared when it all became a little too much to deal with.
At various points, Faith turns to the Episcopal priest when she feels betrayed by her own understanding of faith, thinking he might have better answers. But the priest himself is in the midst of his own faith crisis, and their interchanges serve only to bring each of their questions into starker relief.
The reader could bring countless interpretations to what the author intended for this story to “say,” about faith, about forgiveness, about the afterlife. I drew my own conclusions about what Faith felt she had to do to make her peace by the time the new millennium appeared. You might draw your own conclusions, too. What do you think Rutledge might have been thinking about faith as she wrote Faith’s story?
I do know this to be true: one friend who read the book said, “Lynda Rutledge has written one of the most tender, holy end-of-life scenes I’ve ever read.”
Julie Kibler’s debut novel, Calling Me Home, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in February 2013. She lives in Texas and is currently writing her next novel. She likes books, movies, and music that make her think about the hard questions. You may find her online at her website, on her group blog, What Women Write, and on Facebook.