My sister and I both loved The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue, so when it came time to select a new book for our book club, we thought we’d try another of his novels, Angels of Destruction.
When Margaret Quinn’s 17-year-old daughter, Erica, runs away with her radical boyfriend to join the cultish revolutionary group Angels of Destruction, her life becomes one of emptiness and longing. So when a little girl named Norah shows up on her doorstep ten years later, she eagerly takes her in to fill the void left by her daughter. Willing to overlook the girl’s mysterious origins, Margaret passes her off as her granddaughter, and enrolls her in the local school. There, Norah befriends Sean Fallon, a boy whose father abandoned him and his mother some time ago. At the same time, a strange shadow man shows up after her arrival, asking questions about the child of everyone in the town who knows Margaret.
Interwoven with this narrative is the flashback story of Erica and her boyfriend, Wiley, on their journey from Pennsylvania to San Francisco, where they plan to meet up with the Angels and change the world. Unfortunately, things break down from the very beginning, as Wiley, hopped up on youthful zeal and radicalism, steals several cars and waves a gun around while robbing stores. Along the way, Erica starts to doubt Wiley and his crazy beliefs, and discovers she’s pregnant.
The two timelines slowly unfold as our questions build: who is Norah? Is she Erica’s daughter, or an answer to Margaret’s prayers in the form of an angel? Who is the shadow man? What happened to Erica and why doesn’t she come home?
These questions and Donohue’s descriptive prose kept me involved in the book, but I felt the story went on for far too long. It didn’t engage me as much as The Stolen Child, but the characterization and setting are solid. Maybe its complex themes of faith and doubt, sin and redemption, and the bonds between parent and child need a little more time to digest.
If you’re not comfortable with ambiguity and want all your questions answered, this book isn’t for you. If you love to contemplate the mysteries of heaven and earth (and in your heart of hearts, want to believe in angels), then you might want to give this one a try.