Rising in Small, Necessary Steps

We Are Called to Rise: A Novel, by Laura McBride (Simon & Schuster), 320 pages

I love We Are Called to Rise for multiple reasons: for the varied first-person narrators who allow readers to see from multiple perspective simultaneously; for its unflinching look at difficult subject matter; for the sense of hope it leaves the reader with. If I could, I would buy a copy for every single person I know who worries about the state of the world and her/his ability to make a difference.

We Are Called to Rise looks at the violence our world is filled with, particularly at state-sanctioned violence, whether that is out-and-out warfare; seen-but-not-seen domestic violence and bad policing decisions; or the structural violence of under-funded schools and family services. It seeks neither to rail against nor to justify this violence, but to understand it in a way that makes moving beyond the violence possible.

The author, Laura McBride, was inspired to write after reading a news piece about a police shooting. In the author’s note she acknowledges

The one thing that almost kept me from writing my story was that it was so unbearably sad…. So the challenge I set for myself was this: could I write a story that accepted the full unbearableness, and still left one wanting to wake up in the morning? Could I do it without being trite, without relying on mere wishfulness? Is it possible to live past the unthinkable with beauty? Can a coffee spoon counter calamity?

The book’s four narrators start out living what seem to be very separate lives. Avis is a middle aged woman whose husband has announced he wants a divorce. Roberta volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, representing the interests of children in the foster care system. Luis is a badly injured soldier just returned from the war in Iraq. Bashkim is a third-grader, a member of a family that has immigrated from Albania after receiving political asylum. Of course, each of the characters is much more than this. Each struggles to find meaning, to choose the right path. And as they engage in this struggle their lives are pulled closer and closer together, like orbiting planets all being pulled in by the gravity of the same sun.

This is McBride’s first novel. I dearly hope we don’t have to wait long for another one.

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