Common Elements in the Prose of Jackie Lea Sommers, Part 1

MAJOR Truest SPOILER ALERT! Do not read further if you want to be surprised by Truest


I have written before about my friend Jackie’s book Truest.  She has also written several short stories, and I have been fascinated by the common elements I see among her works. Death, hope, and the importance of story, are the most prominent to me. She has written more than I realized, and the short stories that I have read are:

The most startling, and thus the most obvious, common element in all of these stories is death. Laurel’s death is the central event in Truest. Being set in a hospice, death is ever-present in “Covered Up Our Names,” with one character dying at the beginning and the main character (Mack) dying at the end. The entirety of “Nine Names” is set in the period between the train crash that killed all of the children of the Narnia series, except Susan, and their funeral. The concept of “Half Mast” is that American history has been so full of death and disaster that the flag always flies at half mast, except for the afternoon of Memorial Day. All three characters in “A Traitor’s Tea” are dead and conversing in the afterlife. While no one dies in “Madam, Meet Adam,” almost anyone who reads this story will already know that the Fall and the introduction of Death into the world come next.

Hope is the countervailing common element to death in these stories. In the wake of Laurel’s death, many of the characters and families in Truest grow and heal. West, the narrator, finds a new connection to God, and Gordon, the wise man of the book, assures her that Laurel is at peace. “Covered Up Our Names” ends not with Mack’s death but with the hope that she made her peace with God and the narrator (Jonas) reconnecting with his foster sister. Fans of The Chronicles of Narnia already know that The Last Battle ends with the dead children actually excited to be dead, for now they can spend eternity in paradise with Aslan. Some readers, including me, see hope in “Half Mast” that a nation battered by tragedy still endures after more than 1200 years and 14 new states into the future. All those drinking tea are traitors, but they are presumably having tea in Heaven, and Peter reassures the narrator, “This is a gathering of the redeemed.” In “Madam, Meet Adam,” the hope is again unwritten but known to all of those who have read the Bible past Genesis.

The final common element I see is the importance of story, which includes history. “Stories are our must august arms against the darkness,” is a refrain of Truest, and Gordon emphasizes the importance of history to the point that West decides to become a history major after spending the novel in indecision and ambiguity about her plans for the future. Throughout “Covered Up Our Names” Mack is writing a story of which we read snippets; she finishes it before her death, and it gives Jonas the key to understanding her final act with her friends. Both “Nine Names” and “A Traitors’ Tea” are sequels to other stories, namely The Chronicles of Narnia in both cases and the story of Simon Peter’s life in “Tea.” “Half Mast” is primarily concerned with the violent and tragic history that has brought the flag to half mast for nearly all year. “Madam, Meet Adam” is the retelling of a story held sacred by most people on Earth.

This collection seemed like an odd combination until I considered the author’s evangelical Christian faith, then it made beautiful sense. We share a story of death and hope (in that order); it is called the gospel.

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