Katie Munnik’s first novel is a compelling debut. Spanning wilderness settings from Scotland to Canada, the narrative laces the history of three generations of women, exploring motherhood from WWII to the present. Jane, pregnant and alone on the Scottish coast, wife of an absent soldier, struggles with a burdensome secret. Daughter Felicity immigrates to Montreal just in time for Expo and the shock of the FLQ Crisis, settling in a commune as a single mother. Granddaughter Pidge circles back to Jane’s cottage where she ponders her own unexpected pregnancy, unravels familial enigmas and finds direction for her irresolute soul.
The Holy Spirit nests within their tangled lives, a feathered companion materializing in unexpected guises – as a wild Canada goose squatting brazenly in Pidge’s kitchen or a flock of pigeons delineating a beckoning arc towards the west where the “sky was slashed open into gold, bright gold.” Felicity decorates a glass shower with images of birds in flight, musing “Happiness is bird-shaped, isn’t it?” In tumultuous times, fear, bombs, birth and death are inextricably entwined, but hope, “that feathered thing,” can always be found – in a mother’s prayers, or in Christmas, which “has a way of coming, even when all else is strange and cold.”
Munnik’s writing, as CC readers already know, is graceful and refined. With a sensitive alertness to the play of wind and light, she imbues the rugged landscapes with a tangible sense of God’s proximity. Historical research lends credence to the plot. Along with strong and sympathetic protagonists, an array of minor characters help embody the novel’s foundational premise that faith, courage and resilience are not hatched in isolation, but birthed within the embrace of community. Read The Heart Beats in Secret and join me in anticipating Munnik’s next book!
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