Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ Free Shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Lying Awake Paperback – October 9, 2001
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
In his third novel, Lying Awake, Mark Salzman breaks the primary rule of fiction by creating a protagonist who has virtually no external life. Sister John of the Cross, a middle-aged nun cloistered in a Carmelite monastery in contemporary Los Angeles, languished for years in a spiritual drought--"her prayers empty and her soul dry"--until she suddenly received God's grace in the form of intense mystical visions. So vivid have her visions become that they burn a kind of afterglow into her mind that she transcribes into crystalline (and highly popular) verse. The only downside is that they are accompanied by excruciating headaches that cause her to black out.
The story hinges on Sister John's discovery that her visions are in fact the result of mild epileptic seizures. As she learns from her neurologist, temporal-lobe epilepsy commonly brings about "hypergraphia (voluminous writing), an intensification but also a narrowing of emotional response, and an obsessive interest in religion and philosophy." Dostoyevsky, the classic victim of this condition, wrote of his raptures: "There are moments, and it is only a matter of five or six seconds, when you feel the presence of eternal harmony.... If this state were to last more than five seconds, the soul could not endure it and would have to disappear." An exact description of Sister John's visions. The question she now faces is whether to go ahead with surgery--and risk obliterating both her spiritual life and her art--or cling to a state of grace that may actually be a delusion ignited by an electrochemical imbalance.
Using a very limited palette, Mark Salzman creates an austere masterpiece. The real miracle of Lying Awake is that it works perfectly on every level: on the realistic surface, it captures the petty squabbles and tiny bursts of radiance of life in a Los Angeles monastery; deeper down it probes the nature of spiritual illumination and the meaning and purpose of prayer in everyday life; and, at bottom, there lurks a profound meditation on the mystery of artistic inspiration. Salzman made a highly auspicious debut in 1986 with Iron and Silk, a memoir of his years in China, and since then he has dramatically changed key in every book--most recently from the absurdist American suburban chronicle of Lost in Place to the artistic-crisis-cum-courtroom-drama novel The Soloist. Lying Awake is quieter and more sober than Salzman's previous narratives, but it is also more accomplished, more thought-provoking, and more highly crafted. --David Laskin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Mysticism meets modern medicine in this intriguing r?cit of a nun's dark night of the soul. It's 1997, and Sister John of the Cross, a Carmelite nun in a monastery just outside Los Angeles, seeks treatment for epilepsy, although the remedy threatens to diminish her formidable spiritual powers. The Carmelites place heavy emphasis on prayer, and over the years this discipline has helped Sister John to develop miraculous visionary gifts. When severe headaches precipitate a collapse that requires medical intervention, Sister John finds the process starkly juxtaposed against her centuries-old traditions: she discovers it's almost impossible to discuss infused contemplation with a neurologist. Is her continual prayer "hyperreligiosity"?; her choice to remain celibate "hyposexuality"?; her will to control her body "anorexia"? Although she accepts a CT scan and its diagnosis, Sister John determines that faith offers a more substantial, meaningful reality. Written with simple elegance, alternating narrative and prayer, the tale is engaging yet maintains a curious emotional elusiveness. A drama centering on the realm of mysticism is bound to be difficult to describe and, like Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy, this story doesn't aim to render the nun's spiritual life and psyche in accessible terms for lay readers. What Salzman conveys with perfect clarity is that momentary, extraordinary mental state in which physical pain becomes pure, lucid grace poised between corporeal reality and eternity, a state that Sister John desires to prolong for a lifetime. Salzman's talent for calling forth the details and essence of unfamiliar realms is well known: his memoir, Iron & Silk, was acclaimed for its deft rendering of life in China, no less authentic for being written by an outsider. With this third novel (after The Soloist), the author continues to surprise with his unorthodox choices and consistently challenging themes, story lines and characters. Eight illus. by Stephanie Shieldhouse. (Sept.) FYI: The Soloist was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
Eventually, she discovers what she thought were real experiences may have been caused by some kind of small node on her brain, which begins to cause her to have episodes where she walks about nearly unconsciously, causing great alarm to her religious sisters.
She must make a choice: remove the node, which isn't life-threatening - and risk losing this sense of special closeness to God, which sustains her in so many ways - or refuse the surgery. It was interesting reading, and goes to the heart of what goodness really is.
She struggles with the realities of how to manage a health care decision that may greatly affect the way that she views and lives the life that she has chosen. This illness that at the begining of the story seems quite vague, becomes much more clear as the story of her life in the convent unfolds and is woven throughout the story of her group and community within the sisters. It is through and with this close group of religeous women that she is able to reach a decision to deal with a serious and very difficult health care choice.
The outcomes were interesting and worth staying up late into the night to discover.
Overall a very interesting and thoughtful book. It gave me more than a few moments of pause related to my own work in healthcare.
There is a clarity and purpose in this story that is so real and so enormous that it often takes the readers breath away. There are details that makes one wonder how Salzman got the level of detail that he did, in spite of the fact that contemplatives still covet their way of life and observe the Rule to the letter of the law, especially in not allowing outsiders in.
Sr. John of the Cross is the main character who has been in the convent in southern California for over 20 years, the only adult life she has known and she is beginning to experience a deeply religious ecstasy that few ever experience. This is the result of a brain tumor, which becomes her true cross to bear.
This story is not just about Sr. John however; it also tells about life in a contemplative setting- one in which many who suffer from the throes of materialism, could not exist. It stresses a life a control and endurance and tolerance, all for the sake of learning to know and love God.
This is a compelling read, one that is resonant in details, one that speaks honestly of questioning faith at a high level. There are introspective views in this book not often seen and that is what takes this novel to a level different from most.
However, in the process of taking her cross to God each time, Sr. John is faced with walking the talk, by having to make a devastating decision, one that will change her experience with God. This is her cross.
The level of detail and the grace that is woven into this story is the elegance that moves with the same wonder that women in the old habits did. There is a starkness and a simplicity that tells this story that is so compelling it forces the reader to care about what happens to Sr. John and all the rest of the nuns.
Frequently, in contemplative convents, there are nuns called externs who perform the outside work required for all contacts so that the contemplatives inside can do what they do best- spend their day in quiet and constant prayer. That is usually the only person who is allowed within the walls and even that one has some restraints. Priests are allowed only in certain areas.
The cast of characters are so well developed that there is a certain sadness as the last few pages are read, knowing that the reader is about to leave these caring, loving and extremely extraordinary people.
In a time when the Church is in crisis, this story reinvents the idea of God's grace and His goodness and all that is in living within the context of God's will.
There is also a resurgent interest in contemplative life in America today, which is perhaps the result of our chaotic way of life. This book is one of the best mirrors I have seen in many years of a true example of what life is like for those who have lived it and know it to be true to form.
This is perhaps one of the best books I have read this year!