Revisiting Ron Hansen’s outré, erotic Catholic novel, twenty-five years later.
In 1906, Mariette Baptiste, a seventeen-year-old postulant, is the talk of the Sisters of the Crucifixion convent. Although their days are scheduled down to the minute—silence, recitation, meditation, prayer, work, meals—the sisters can’t help but talk about the new, rich teenager in their midst. Why did she join them? What’s her secret?
Mariette in Ecstasy, Ron Hansen’s prose-poetic novel, was published twenty-five years ago, and its strangeness hasn’t withered. The rare book lauded by both The Village Voice and diocesan newspapers, Hansen’s novel is written in gorgeous sentences that combine meticulous material specificity with ambiguous emotion. (Mariette’s room in the convent is described as a “cell” where a “holy water stoup is next to the doorjamb, and just a few feet above Mariette’s pillow is a hideous Spanish cross and a painted Christ that is all red meat and agony.”) A quarter-century after its publication, no other novel has quite captured its marriage of the sacred and the sexual, the pious and the secular. Read More