Can You See Anything Now?
Winner of Christianity Today's 2018 Fiction Award . . .
"Can You See Anything Now? marks the debut of an exciting literary talent. I hear echoes of Elizabeth Strout and Richard Russo in Katherine James’s richly detailed world, in her empathy, quiet humor, and hope. Richard Foster has said that writing is spiritual if it ‘drill[s] down into the subterranean chambers of the human soul.’ James manages this improbable task as she explores the lives of an intergenerational cast—including the irresistible Margie—drifting between the small-town foibles of Trinity and urban particularities of Manhattan. May her characters, insights, and often-striking prose find the wide audience they deserve.” —Daniel Bowman, associate professor of English, Taylor University
James’s debut novel illustrates the gradual changes that human connection can bring to a messy world. The book opens with another of artist Margie Nethercott’s unsuccessful suicide attempts in the small New England community of Trinity. Margie is cared for by her therapist husband, who can be impatient with her inability to handle life, and is exasperated by her college-age daughter, Noel, who has gone to New York City for college and isn’t as forthright about her feelings as she once was. Events take another tragic turn when Noel invites her pierced, self-injuring roommate Pixie home for Thanksgiving; Pixie slips into an icy river and nearly dies. In the months that follow, the characters each deal with the near-tragedy by reconceiving God and rededicating themselves to family. The story reaches an awkward climax on the day that Pixie’s troubled father, Pete, arrives to conduct a town prayer before a fittingly ambiguous finale that refocuses the book on family, community, and the people of Trinity. James nicely weaves in eccentric townspeople to round out the cast—Mary Sommerfield specializes in casseroles and gossip; Etta Wallace is a woman of faith who paints tomatoes—of this touching if static portrayal of aging, depression, and the aftermath of trauma. (Oct.) - Publishers Weekly
If I were to sit on the judgment panel for the National Book Awards in fiction, I would insist that Katherine James’s first novel—Can You See Anything Now? (Paraclete; 2017)—be placed in consideration. I would promote it because I think it is simply amazing and that it demonstrates a literary proficiency rarely if ever found in a debut novel. In terms of literary skill there is a kind of bell curve here: for the first third of the book, the author seems to be in love with language. The text is elegant and rich, with literary chances taken in almost every sentence: “melt of heat,” “a shock of sun,” “the day folded itself like a fan,” and “the terrible, terrible blue sky”—rich fare! And then, as the bell curve rises, the elegance begins to move aside and gives place to the straight-forward launch of sheer story-telling where the plot evens out the language to its usefulness and the story is all. And then in the last third of the book, we hear again the voice of that first author, that poet, that beauty-dreamer. The author is there for the moment and for what the moment needs—be it language or story—sometimes almost exhausting the reader with the visual refined stretch of the language. Margie the painter-in-the-attic, wrestling with her MS; her psychologist husband Nick’s invention of “vascular resting therapy;” Mary of the spaghetti casserole; Etta of the painted tomatoes; together they create the world in which they live—and it is a world of fascination. —John-Julian, OJN
Editorial Reviews for Can You See Anything Now?
“....The novel is brutally honest in its relation of the characters’ struggles. This willingness to stare into the darker depths of the human experience is refreshing in a novel that also claims Christian trappings. Rather than pretend certain words, actions, and people don’t exist, James does not shy away from peppering her novel with a diverse cast and their diverse opinions and vocabularies. There is enough light that peeks through to provide some breathing space. Etta is the primary provider of this relief, as she is portrayed as kindly innocent rather than judgmentally naive. Her interactions both with Margie and with the more gossipy members of the Trinity community provide a portrait of open-minded inclusion that should be characteristic of more Christian literature. Despite its unvarnished subject matter, the prose possesses moments of lovely lyricism. Carefully chosen details create scenes that are tangible in their realism. Literary and pop-culture references alike stimulate and potentially broaden the intellect. Brimming with both acuity and grace, Can You See Anything Now? is a welcome challenge to the dogmatic conventions of modern Christian fiction.” —Foreword Reviews