(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“My life doesn’t add up to anything, Father. More like the story of Troy—all in a day’s work—than Rome, going in circles instead of moving forward. I’ve worn out all the roles I used to play—daughter, student, lover, wife, mother, Latin teacher. Now I’m just…I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Do all the events of your past lead up to where you are now? Frances committed her share of “sins”. As a college student she had an affair with her married Shakespeare professor, Paul Godwin, who later left his wife for her and their unborn child. However, that was not her worse sin.
After Paul’s death, she was lost. Frances tried to reconcile her “sin” with her past while trying to figure out the present and her purpose. All she had were memories, but wasn’t there more to life? Even her conversations with God–though quite entertaining for the reader– didn’t provide adequate answers.
She developed a close friendship with a priest, but could she confide in him and disclose her darkest secret? God wanted her to confess, but would she?
Though she and God had conversations about quantum physics, she came to the conclusion that “Whatever happens, it won’t matter to the universe. The universe is indifferent. The stars are indifferent…The molecule and atoms, electrons and quarks, all indifferent.” While experiencing the opera and listening to classical music during her trips to Rome and Verona, she realized that the beauty of art and music were real and that she wanted to integrate them into her own life.
The Confessions of Frances Godwin is told from Frances’ perspective. As in The Italian Lover, author Robert Hellenga successfully delves into the middle-aged woman’s mind, expressing her point of view with such depth and clarity. This is not just just limited to women, though. As in his earlier novels from a male perspective, like Philosophy Made Simple and The Fall of a Sparrow, these universal questions pertaining to the human existence are explored.
Hellenga fully develops all of his characters–realistically, with all of their strengths and flaws in his novels. This story is no exception. Though Frances and the characters in this book are new to his novels, their complexities, hesitations and insecurities are not.
What also is not new to this novel is Hellenga’s emphasis on location, which is as vital as the plot or characters— whether it be Rome, Wisconsin or Galesburg, Illinois. I must admit, as in his other novels, I am seduced by his luscious descriptions of Italy that serve as a backdrop to many of his stories.
As you can see, I am a enthusiastic fan of Robert Hellenga and couldn’t wait for The Confessions of Frances Godwin to be published. I wasn’t disappointed and don’t think other readers will be either.
I hope that this is not the end of Frances Godwin. Specifically I would like her to meet Alan “Woody”Woodhull (The Italian Lover and The Fall of a Sparrow) and experience more love and passion, as well as the Blues. Is that possible, Mr. Hellenga?