From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this penetrating theological memoir, Norris (The Cloister Walk
) details her relationship with acedia, a slothful, soul-weary indifference long recognized by monastics. Norris is careful to distinguish acedia from its cousin, depression, noting that acedia is a failure of the will and can be dispelled by embracing faith and life, whereas depression is not a choice and often requires medical treatment. This is tricky ground, but Norris treads gingerly, reserving her acerbic crankiness for a section where she convincingly argues that despite Americans' apparently unslothful lives, acedia is the undiagnosed neurasthenia of our busy age. Much of the book is taken up with Norris's account of her complicated but successful marriage, which ended with her husband's death in 2003. The energy poured into this marriage, Norris argues, was as much a defiant strike against acedia as her spiritual discipline of praying the Psalms. Filled with gorgeous prose, generous quotations from Christian thinkers across the centuries and fascinating etymological detours, this discomfiting book provides not just spiritual hope but a much-needed kick in the rear. (Sept. 16)
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*Starred Review* The lacuna in Norris’ published life, following the phenomenal impact of The Cloister Walk (1996) and Amazing Grace (1998), was due, she now reveals, to the death of her husband, and to acedia, a profound form of apathy. Akin to depression, acedia, or the “noonday demon,” was counted among the original “eight bad thoughts,” but the term fell out of use. Norris believes it’s time to reclaim it. Delving, as she loves to do, into early Christian texts, and illuminating the wisdom of the monastic tradition, Norris, a superb storyteller, careful synthesizer, and brilliant interpreter, presents the “peculiar history” of acedia and chronicles her own battles with this particular “soul-sickness.” Her personal stories are truly moving and instructive, but the most arresting and resonant aspect of this engrossing extrapolation is Norris’ theory of social acedia as the explanation of our inaction in the face of so much violence and injustice. We abhor bloodshed, prejudice, and greed yet feel powerless to stop them. Norris’ fascinating inquiry casts our predicament in a new light and maps a course out of this “enervating despair.” Reading this strongly argued, paradigm-altering work may be the first strike against the demon it portrays. --Donna Seaman