As soon as I opened up this book and saw the words of Richard Rohr peering out at me I knew this was a novel I wanted to read. “Pain that is not transformed is transmitted”. I have read much of Richard Rohr’s work and found it helpful, I had only previously read one of Michael J Malone’s books but from A Suitable Lie alone I knew that he was an author who could express pain and the healing of wounds beautifully.
When you are dealing with a novel about child sexual abuse you feel obliged to choose your words carefully. Sometimes you read a book to be entertained, sometimes to simply help you drift off into sleep barely even processing the words on the page. Other times you read to experience someone else’s truth, to develop empathy. You can only do that in the hands of a skilled writer and in Michael J Malone we have a very fine one, a guide we can trust.
In the Absence of Miracles is the story of three brothers all dealing with deep wounds from their childhood. Three different paths that have led them in very different directions until a chance discovery pulls them all back together. We follow John’s story directly because his has only just begun. He has managed to block out the past completely, to shut it in a box deep in his consciousness, but the search for a missing brother means that the box cannot stay closed any longer.
John is driven to find the brother he lost without ever knowing he was there, but it is not just a quest to be reunited. All of John’s childhood is blocked out by a dark cloud that he has never understood but has impacted every aspect of his adult life. Only by facing up to his past pain can he be freed into full relationship now and live his life.
It can be tempting to seek a life of distraction. Leave out the difficult bits and just focus on the superficial, that way you can’t be hurt, but there is a deep spiritual truth to this world that we “must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can turn and help the brothers”. If we carry our pain around with us that pain is transmitted to those we interact with, but if we deal with our pain – not fix it, or even understand it, but transform the energy flowing through it – we too become transformed, into what Henri Nouwen called the wounded healer.
Richard Rohr is a healer and I like to think that Michael J Malone in writing his deeply painful and beautiful novels is also helping to heal a world that so acutely needs it.