Can people who do harm be loved and forgiven? And what is the role of love in redemption?

Can people who do harm be loved and forgiven? And what is the role of love in redemption?

Acclaimed author Lauren B. Davis explores these questions in her gripping novel Even So. It’s a tale about lust, guilt, social class and spiritual growth from the viewpoints of a nun and a privileged housewife.

Born in Montreal, Davis has written six previous novels and two short story collections. Over the years, she has been nominated for several literary prizes, including the Rogers Writers’ Trust Award, the Giller Prize, the Relit Award and the CBC Short Story Award.

Her novels have also gained recognition as "Best Books of the Year" by the Boston Globe, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Winnipeg Free Press and Amazon.ca. This is her seventh novel. She currently lives in New Jersey.

Davis often writes about moral dilemmas involving protagonists with serious afflictions and others who reach out to them. Accordingly, her new novel includes both types of characters.

Set in Princeton and Trenton, N.J., the story takes place over the course of seven years. At the outset we meet Angela, a winsome, affluent Princeton wife, mother and orchid enthusiast.

She volunteers at a Trenton food bank, hoping this activity will generate some excitement in her life. ("The beige of her life strangled her," Davis writes.) A nun named Sister Eileen runs the food bank, but for years the "silence of God" has frustrated her.

She soon enlists Angela’s help to build a community garden and introduces her to Carsten, a handsome landscaper who will assist with the planning. He and Angela develop a good rapport, but their relationship progresses far beyond that point.

Shortly afterwards, Angela causes a horrific tragedy and her life is shattered. She then contacts Sister Eileen, who must decide whether to offer her support.

Davis’s third-person linear narrative is written in succinct, sure-footed prose in the alternating voices of the two protagonists. This structure suits the story well. Not only does it heighten the tension and suspense, but at the same time it maintains the reader’s attention.

Throughout the novel, Davis demonstrates her keen attention to detail. In one instance she describes the two settings. "Princeton was mowed lawns and cocktail on the terrace and fundraisers for the library. Trenton had a wild beat. It was hot-blooded. It mattered. It was street art and sirens and all the insistent urgency of survival on the edge of a falling knife."

As well, Davis’s skill at dialogue makes the reader feel fully present in each of novel’s vignettes. Consequently, the scenes, especially those with Angela and her husband as well as the conversations with Sister Eileen and her associates, reveal much about the two protagonists.

The title Even So comes from a phrase in author Raymond Carver’s final poem written before he died — that someone could have an imperfect life, but still be worthy of love.

That said, the same universal message in Davis’s novel is bound to linger in readers’ minds long after they finish the book.

Bev Sandell Greenberg is a Winnipeg writer and editor.