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Spring 2016 · Vol. 45 No. 1 · pp. 108–109 

Book Review

Amends: A Novel

Eve Tushnet. n.p.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015. 330 pages.

Reviewed by Tim Perry

Amends is the new novel by Eve Tushnet, who is probably best known as a blogger for’s Catholic channel and the author of the nonfiction, really, really good book Gay and Catholic. And that’s perhaps a good place to begin for people unfamiliar with this wonderful young writer.

As the title of her first book suggests, Eve Tushnet doesn’t easily fit into the usual categories. She is the child of ardent atheists, but is a convert to Catholicism—of a very robust and theologically traditional variety. She identifies as a lesbian, but affirms and lives according to her church’s teaching on human sexuality. Both gay and Catholic, one of her ongoing tasks is to promote the argument that one need not choose between the identifiers. The original subtitle for her blog was “Conservativism reborn in twisted sisterhood,” which suits pretty well everything she writes.

A self-conscious outsider, Tushnet’s writing manages to unsettle the “just the way things are” of just about everyone—myself included—no matter what tribe they claim as theirs. And I think she’s great.

Here’s the question I think Tushnet is engaging in this novel: How does one talk about sin and grace, about redemption and God, even Jesus and the sacraments, to an audience for whom such language is, if it is known at all, saccharine or cliché?

By setting the story on a reality TV show, of course.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story “Amends” is an MTV reality TV show in which six characters—a woman who identifies as a wolf, an Ethiopian Christian mystic, a conservative writer, a teen hockey star, a brash lesbian playwright, and a gay man whose last job was {109} in collections—learn about themselves, their addictions, and the harm they’ve inflicted on themselves and the people they love. They begin to make amends—hence the name of both the show and the novel. They are overseen by two television executives hoping in their own way to make sense of themselves and, of course, to get the show renewed for another season.

This is a brilliant move. We might not be able to talk about sin and grace anymore, but even the most secular among us knows all too well the inbuilt human capacity to make our lives difficult, or worse. We can easily find elements in one or more of the characters that echo in our own lives, that attract us. We can find similarly cringe-worthy elements that make us want to keep reading, too. If the characters veer a little too close to caricature sometimes, it is always with Tushnet’s satirical wink and the reminder that this is, after all, reality TV.

Setting things on a reality TV show allows Tushnet the freedom to paint in even bolder colors than might be possible in a more “realistic” setting. We might call it hyper-reality TV. The extreme behaviors that we’ve come to associate with shows such as Big Brother, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and all the rest are all on full display here. As a culture, we’ve come to agree that certain actions are permissible and even make sense on reality TV, though they would not be tolerated outside of that medium. Our own complicity in the foolishness allows Tushnet to shout at her readers without actually raising her voice. This is a Flannery O’Connor move, allowing Tushnet to say, “Yes, this really messed up world full of really messed up people is the world that God loves!” to all who have ears to hear.

The banter is earthy, hilarious, and engaging. It can move from the ridiculous to the very thoughtful in a nanosecond. It skewers pop culture’s sacred cows and invites us to reconsider ideas many of us think we’ve outgrown. It is a twisted, but very real and inviting conservativism.

In short, Amends is Augustine’s Confessions cast as a novel for the age of Orange is the New Black.

Read it.

Rev. Dr. Tim Perry serves as rector of the Church of the Epiphany and is a lecturer at Thorneloe University, both in Sudbury, Ontario.

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