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The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski
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The Girl Who Slept with God

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The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski
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Jul 05, 2016 | ISBN 9780143109433

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    Jul 05, 2016 | ISBN 9780143109433

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  • Aug 04, 2015 | ISBN 9780698171008

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  • Aug 04, 2015 | ISBN 9780698402577

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“[A] fine, carefully wrought novel. . . . There are no angels or devils, no absolute good or bad, only flawed though mostly forgivable people, whose complicated subjectivities make reading this novel, despite its many sad moments, a heartening experience.”
—Naomi Fry, The New York Times Book Review

“Brelinski’s page-turning debut is full of humor, insight and imaginative sympathy. Think of it as the annunciation of a new talent.”
The Wall Street Journal

“A revelation.”
—Vanity Fair
“[Brelinski] had readers hooked from page 1.”

“Two young sisters—one devout and undeniably pregnant, the other full of the devil—left by their God-fearing parents in a remote farmhouse . . . what could possibly go wrong? Val Brelinski’s fictional debut, The Girl Who Slept with God, answers that question and others with daring and grace.”
—More Magazine

“[A] complex portrait of a family in upheaval. . . . Brelinski excels at capturing the mixture of sensations and hormones in the teenage girl. . . . A compelling, thought-provoking story about female adolescence, family love, faith and independence, with a well-drawn girl at the heart of it.”
The Seattle Times
The Girl Who Slept with God juxtaposes the visceral details of everyday life with the more contemplative life of the mind and spirit. Like the novel’s stark but beautiful landscape, Brelinski’s prose is rich without being flowery. . . . This striking, quirky and ultimately haunting debut raises questions about the nature of faith and the principles we should uphold when faced with difficult decisions.”
The Houston Chronicle

“An impressive debut. . . . As [Brelinski] examines the intersections between science and faith, family control and individual choice, The Girl Who Slept with God delivers a memorable coming-of-age story.”
San Jose Mercury News

“Three sisters! Chekhov set his trio adrift in rural nowhere-land. Shakespeare beset his with a tyrannical, tragic father. In her thoughtful debut novel, The Girl Who Slept with God, Val Brelinski gives her Quanbeck sisters both these challenges and more . . . . compassionate . . . . radiant.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s doomed Puritans and Flannery O’Connor’s cursed freaks, right up to Marilynne Robinson’s devout, reserved Midwesterners, there is a rich tradition of religious novels in American literature. Val Brelinski explores similar themes in her provocatively titled debut novel The Girl Who Slept with God. . . . [Brelinski examines] religion with depth and complexity. The narrative momentum builds impressively as Jory uncovers secrets and confronts painful truths about family, love, religion and growing up.”

“[An] engaging debut. . . . A heartrending portrait of the challenges of accepting and rejecting both faith and family and realizing that decisions aren’t always so straightforward.”
—Library Journal (starred review)

“[An] intriguing story of a close evangelical Christian family. . . . In her debut novel, Brelinski makes Jory’s solitude nearly palpable and dissects the dynamics of family through Jory’s life on the fringe of society, and the result is fascinating.”
Publishers Weekly

“A soulful exploration of the limits and consequences of familial control.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Populated with vibrant, three-dimensional characters and filled with lighthearted moments, pitch-perfect dialogue, and evocative descriptions of the Idaho countryside, Brelinski’s debut is a memorable twist on the coming-of-age narrative. It is a piercing yet nuanced exploration of toxic parenting, guilt, manipulation, cowardice, and other human frailties, and the claustrophobic grip exerted by the ties that bind.”

The Girl Who Slept with God is full of passion and compassion. It treats its characters as people in a way few novels canallowing each of them to be fascinating, full-hearted, noble, confused, brave, fumbling, petty, right and wrong by turns, in a way that feels like life.”
Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding
“Val Brelinski manages to make a foreign world utterly familiar with prose that’s heartfelt, provocative, and wistful. A striking debut.”
—Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of The Descendants
The Girl Who Slept with God is a lushly detailed and immensely compelling portrait of adolescence, Idaho, sisterhood, the 1970s, and the painful, precious mystery of family. Any reader who has ever sought to love someone beyond her understanding will relish this lovely book.”
—Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints
“What is it about the stark snows and broiling summers of Idaho that make an evangelical life seem both so compelling and so alien? Inventive and dynamic, The Girl Who Slept with God put me constantly in mind of Housekeeping, but rubbed roughly against life as we live it, with drugs and high school and ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale.’ Twinning grace and humor with startling psychological depth, Brelinski’s debut novel is bold, sometimes unnerving, and chock full of the moments, insights, and beauty we read for.”
—Scott Hutchins, author of A Working Theory of Love
The Girl Who Slept with God is a deeply moving and beautiful novel that challenges our notions about faith, family and community. Val Brelinski is a gorgeous writer—compassionate and spare, generous and insightful—and this novel will stay with me for a long time. I loved it.”
Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans
“Page after page in The Girl Who Slept with God I was reminded of what I cherish most in fiction: the wonder of falling headfirst into a story, of falling for the people in it.  For this is a wondrous debut, written with as much care for its characters’ hearts as for the finest points of the writer’s craft. Seldom have I found a book so full of love or loved living in a novel’s world so much.”
—Josh Weil, author of The Great Glass Sea
The Girl Who Slept with God is a gorgeously harrowing examination of a family facing perils so great everything they know about faith and love is challenged. Val Brelinski is a writer of uncommon precision and empathy, and this novel makes for a brilliant and commanding debut.”
—Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth and Find Me

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Val Brelinski:

Your biography states that you are “the daughter of devout evangelical Christians.” How do your parents feel about your novel? Do they support your writing fiction?

My mother and father both died while I was finishing the novel, so neither one had a chance to read it. In many ways I think this was probably for the best. My parents were always somewhat mystified by my desire to write, and especially by my desire to write about our religion and our own family’s peculiarities. My parents believed in keeping things private, an ideal I have now violated rather thoroughly. They did read a couple of my published short stories and wondered aloud why I had to include so many personal details and why the stories had to be so “dark.” I think they would have been far happier if I had stayed in Idaho and remained a high school English teacher. And they fervently wished I had kept going to church.

What influenced your decision to become a writer? Did you ever pursue another career?

As a little kid I spent all my time pretending to be someone or something else. I constantly made up stories and plays and forced my sisters and the neighbor kids to act in dramas that I wrote and directed and staged. I was also an inveterate reader and became completely absorbed in whichever book I was reading. In high school and college, I knew I could write well, but I had no idea what to do about it. Writers were people who lived in New York City and who wore black and smoked cigarettes. They were definitely not evangelical girls from Idaho. So I did what many lovers of reading and writing do—I became an English teacher. I taught public high school for seven years and was going fairly crazy with boredom. I asked my principal if I could teach creative writing, which I thought must surely be more fun than once again stuffing The Old Man and the Sea down hundreds of unwilling adolescent throats. When my principal asked what I had written, I hemmed and hawed and then went home and wrote a story. With a hope born of utter naïveté, I sent the story to a magazine contest judged by George Garrett. He awarded me first prize and offered me a scholarship to the MFA program at the University of Virginia. I was forty-two years old and had never been farther east than Colorado. Off I went, very happily leaving my old life behind me.

Did your parents censor what types of books you were allowed to read? Who were your favorite writers when you were growing up? Who are your favorite writers now?

My parents and sisters and I read constantly, much to our neighbors’ amusement. Every night, the five of us would sit side-by-side in our lawn chairs silently reading five different books. My father would read physics or astronomy magazines and textbooks and my mother would read biographies of historic figures. I was probably reading The Girl of the Limberlost, or They Came to a River, or Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks, or anything by Jessamyn West. When we were very young, my parents weren’t too worried about what my sisters and I were reading, although they probably should have been. Books and my own library card introduced me to the wider world, and eventually provided me with an escape from the narrow confines of small town fundamentalism. Reading is still my chief addiction, and although novels are my favorite things to write, short stories are my favorite things to read. I’m especially enamored of those by Katherine Mansfield, Mark Richard, Deborah Eisenberg, Bruno Schulz, Tessa Hadley, Flannery O’Connor, Steven Millhauser, Alice Munro, Claire Vaye Watkins, Denis Johnson, and Ervin D. Krause.

Are the Quanbecks based on a real life family? If not, what inspired the story you tell in The Girl Who Slept with God?

My novel is embarrassingly autobiographical and the similarities between the Quanbecks and my own family are extensive and specific. I wrote the novel because I was intrigued by my older sister and her extreme religious devotion, and I wanted to examine my complicated feelings about her behavior and my parent’s response to her actions. When we were growing up, she seemed very mysterious to me, and because our family was so close-mouthed, we never discussed our truest feelings about or toward each other. I also found my father’s notions of problem solving to be unusual and not always beneficial to those he was supposedly trying to help.

Oren and Esther Quanbeck forbid their daughters from drinking alcohol, dancing, and even wearing pants. Yet Esther regularly takes tranquilizers. Is this kind of behavior common amongst evangelical Christians? If so, how is it usually justified?

Psychotropics and psychiatry were definitely frowned upon by my parents and our church. This is a point on which my novel and my real life differ. I’m sure that some evangelicals took tranquilizers and mood-altering drugs, but my parents certainly didn’t, and when my sister and I ever spoke of being sad or depressed, my father would recommend a long walk and a hot bath and prayer. I don’t think anyone in our house ever took anything stronger than an aspirin. My mother definitely should have been medicated, but my father would never have allowed her to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, either one. He believed that only God should know your innermost thoughts or have any input into the forming of your psyche. My mother finally visited a psychiatrist when she was in her seventies, and it would have saved us all a great deal of heartache if she had been treated for her mental problems long before.

Your novel is set in the 1970s, during what was arguably the greatest period of social experimentation and upheaval in American history. Do you think families like the Quanbecks still exist today?

I’m guessing that there are very few people precisely like the Quanbecks, but many, many people who share some of their same basic attitudes and beliefs. The notion that modern society and its advancements undermine or threaten a more “righteous” way of life is an idea that continues to flourish, regardless of the time period. There will always be a portion of the population who believe that their own ideas are the only correct and godly ones.

You are from Nampa, Idaho, and your novel is set in Arco, Idaho. Are Nampa and Arco more similar or more different? Why did you choose to set the novel in Arco?

Arco and Nampa are basically identical. I chose to give my novel’s town the name of Arco simply because I have always been fascinated by this particular place. Arco was the first community in the world to be lit by electricity generated by nuclear power, and since my father was a nuclear physicist, I heard all about this place from childhood on. Arco was also the site of the first nuclear disaster. I felt that this town’s scientific history, for good and for bad, represented something I wanted to hint at in my novel. It was a type of inside joke, perhaps just for me. Also, I didn’t think readers would totally buy a novel set in Root Hog, which was Arco’s original name (but maybe I was wrong about this!).

Mrs. Kleinfelter and Grip are fully fleshed characters with complicated pasts of their own. What made you decide to make them a part of the Quanbecks’ story?

I wanted the sisters’ banishment to have consequences that their father couldn’t foresee. He definitely doesn’t anticipate that these two new characters will view his daughters differently than he does, or that Mrs. Kleinfelter and Grip will radically change the way that Jory and Grace feel about themselves. In creating these two characters, I was also attempting to replicate my own adolescence during which new people in my world reflected back to me a rather different picture of my parents and their beliefs. Mrs. Kleinfelter and Grip are also pure wish fulfillment for me. I would have given a lot to have had both of them in my fourteen-year-old life.

The end of the novel is incredibly real—untidy and ambivalent about the future. Did you envision this ending when you first began the book?

The first version of my novel had an entirely different and much happier ending, primarily because my parents were still alive, and I did not want to hurt them any more than necessary. Originally, when I sat down to write, I would envision the looks on their faces as they read the book, and this kept me from writing the scenes that I needed to. I believe the current ending is the better one, the one that is most true to life as I know it and to the characters who populate the rest of the book. Human life is ambiguous and messy and contains very few resolutions. Unfortunately.

What do you hope most to achieve with your fiction?

In writing this particular book I wanted to illustrate the ways in which good people with good intentions can still do harmful things. I also wanted to give readers a more balanced and evenhanded view of the life of devout Christian evangelicals. Most important, I hoped to highlight the often painful but necessary movement that all young people must make as they attempt to forge identities both in relation to and separate from their families.

What are you working on now?

I am going back and forth between two projects: a memoir about my rather dramatic early adulthood, and a novel that takes place during the late 1940s in a workers’ camp in Idaho.

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