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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

We Sinners - Hanna Pylväinen Rating: 4* of five The Book Description: This stunning debut novel—drawn from the author's own life experience—tells the moving story of a family of eleven in the American Midwest, bound together and torn apart by their faithThe Rovaniemis and their nine children belong to a deeply traditional church (no drinking, no dancing, no TV) in modern-day Michigan. A normal family in many ways, the Rovaniemis struggle with sibling rivalry, parental expectations, and forming their own unique identities in such a large family. But when two of the children venture from the faith, the family fragments and a haunting question emerges: Do we believe for ourselves, or for each other? Each chapter is told from the distinctive point of view of a different Rovaniemi, drawing a nuanced, kaleidoscopic portrait of this unconventional family. The children who reject the church learn that freedom comes at the almost unbearable price of their close family ties, and those who stay struggle daily with the challenges of resisting the temptations of modern culture. With precision and potent detail, We Sinners follows each character on their journey of doubt, self-knowledge, acceptance, and, ultimately, survival. NB The author won a 2012 Whiting Writers' Award, given for debut or early-career writers who have shown outstanding promise. My Review: What is it with Michigan? Bonnie Jo Campbell (American Salvage and Peace Like A River) made me think I'd rather not visit any time soon, Michael Zadoorian gave me some images I'd rather not have of how failing lives and spirits “cope”, and then came the hopelessness of The Galaxie and Other Rides, Josie Sigler's stories that make Knockemstiff look like madcap comedy. Now this nice Finnish lady makes me think the place should be carpet-bombed and put out of our collective national misery.Hanna Pylväinen is clearly telling the story of her own life. It's made explicit in the publisher's sales pitch. “Drawn from her own life” indeed. And “drawn” in this usage is less “limned” than “poulticed out.” The horrifying, toxic sect of christian belief her family follows is so grotesquely wrongheaded and grimly abusive that it's hard for me to read the book at all. It boggles my mind that anyone could experience any of these things and go on thinking this is a religion of love and light. It's a sadistic, controlling hate group.Anyway.I kept reading because Hanna Pylväinen writes in elegant, unadorned prose about the feelings and spirits of her family. She isn't forgiving and she isn't denigrating and she is, most of all, not apologetic. She quite simply tells the stories she's got inside her to tell, and she does so without one bit of fuss or drama.The stories more than make up for her reticent writing.Oh, and I keep calling them stories because that's what they are. No amount of hollering “this is a novel it's a novel see see it's a novel!” makes it a novel. It's a collection of linked short stories. It's a darn good one, but it's still a collection of linked short stories. That means 99% of y'all will smile wanly, say something polite about the review if you're so inclined, and then shudder off to read something with a plot.Your loss. Hanna Pylväinen is a bright new talent on the literary scene. She's unsparingly sympathetic and astringently kind. She's not to be missed in this debut effort, because one day soon, you'll see her bewildering and unpronounceable name at the front of every B&N/Waterstones/Chapters. You can snort with quietly derisory self-satisfaction at all the Janie-come-latelies warbling her praises. “Oh yes, Hanna {Mumblemumble}! I read We Sinners back in the day. Such a book!”So read it. Read it for fun if you like to get in deep with struggling people; read it for education if you've always had more than enough on your table and in your house; read it to stoke your outrage machine if you're a feminist or a rationalist; read it for bragging rights if you're snobbish. I don't care. Just read it.