It’s been a while since I’ve read a collection of short stories that wasn’t related to my girls’ coursework for high school, and lately much of my personal reading has been non-fiction. I was due for some good fiction that I wasn’t scanning for theme in an effort to help my kids write essays.
One sign of a great short story or poem is that you’re left wanting to know more about the characters. I’ve told my girls that a short story will often set you in the middle of someone’s life and then, as you’re really getting used to everyone, pull you back out again. Sometimes, the story wraps up neatly. Other times, you’re left to your own imagination as to what happens to the characters.
Image and Likeness is a collection of short stories that have, as a theme, the Theology of the Body as envisioned by St. Pope John Paul II, whose feast is today. Theology of the Body isn’t just an alternative sex ed. It’s a way of seeing ourselves as created in God’s image and likeness: body and soul intertwined, each affecting the other and meant to work in harmony as a whole. Theology of the Body (TOB) is about understanding how God created us, how we related to others, and how we are ordered towards our Creator. It’s a way of life more than a set of rules and regulations.
As much as I enjoy the TOB-centered books I’ve read in the last few years, I’ve always felt that parts of them come across as slightly heavy-handed. I look past it easily and still enjoy the stories, but I always have a feeling that it wouldn’t go over well with someone who’s not already accepting of TOB and Catholic teaching. To be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this anthology.
The stories and poetry in Image and Likeness have surprised me in ways that I hadn’t imagined! I love that so many of them leave you open to interpreting what the main characters will decide to do, and I love, too, that the characters who are not on board with Catholic teaching are presented so thoughtfully and with such depth. And very little feels like a lecture, which (sorry to say) sometimes happens when authors try a bit too hard to get that message in.
The selections are about family life, people dealing with same-sex attraction, young women facing abortion, lifelong love between a husband and wife, and more. Every one of the short stories presents the reader with realistic characters, and not one of them is treated like a prop to further the story. I thoroughly enjoyed the book!
You can order Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body from Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
©2016 Christine Johnson