Most books reach a logical conclusion. After I finished Mariette in Ecstasy, I just sat there attempting to sort through what I even felt. Stunned in some ways, I suppose. Mystified to say the least. But then, the subject matter of this book deals with the interface between religious mysticism and human nature. A pat answer rarely rests in either.
Since early adolescence Mariette Baptiste feels a draw, the need for direct connection with her savior. By the time she enters the convent at seventeen as a postulate, her practices toward that end are well grounded. Many hours of meditation, prayer or other types of spiritual cultivation can make the veil quite thin. She soon goes into trance regularly, professes to speak directly to Jesus and bleeds from great holes in the hands, feet and side. At the same time, she seems to be stalked by demons.
The author offers quite believable elements in the life of a stigmatic, not only the passion, and suffering but also – surprisingly – eroticism.
Beyond this are other complications. Mariette comes from privilege, and she’s quite pretty. She enters a modest convent in upstate New York in 1906 and severely disrupts its placid life. This is where human nature comes in. The full range of reaction comes out in spades. There are the suspicions, jealousies, hidden agendas, intrigue, attraction, sexual fantasies and worship…wrapped around religious life.
All of this interspersed against the backdrop of the daily tasks, masses and foreshadowing of Mariette’s interrogation.
Rather than a novel, it could just as well be a narrative nonfiction account of religious fervor and typical convent life. Well researched, sometimes graphic, it was provocative and held all the necessary components of a good mystery.
I find it remarkable that the same author who wrote Desperadoes and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford would also write Mariette in Ecstasy.
I found my copy at the public library. It’s also available at Amazon.