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Rachel Curtis
In the End: A Memoir about Faith and a Novel about Doubt
Part memoir, part novel, In the End offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of God as seen through the eyes of a child. Christianity was the author's birthright: she is the daughter of a pastor, granddaughter of missionaries, and so on for generations. In her earliest memories, God feels like a member of the family, bearing a promise of eternal life in heaven. But as she ventures beyond the parsonage, the world complicates those simple beliefs. The God of her understanding evolves from father figure to invisible friend to painfully unrequited love-and when she attempts to fortify her faith through study, doubts only multiply. The greatest doubt of all eventually consumes her young mind: one day we will die, and what then? In an ambitious quest to understand both her own childhood and the nature of all existence, Karie Luidens employs a mind-bending blend of genres, with evocative prose slipping from fact to fiction in pursuit of truth. Her story wends from village life to the streets of Paris, reviving long-dead philosophers for urgent conversations along the way. Themes of gender, sexuality, embodiment, and naive white saviorism ripple beneath the surface throughout. In the End combines the intellectual rigor of the philosophical novel Sophie's World with the poignancy of the fictionalized memoir Blankets. Ultimately, by interrogating her Christian heritage and confronting the specter of mortality, Luidens realizes a vision that is entirely her own.
Contemplative and penetrating, Luidens’s debut examines her lifelong relationship with the concept of God, from her childhood as a minister’s daughter to an adult studying abroad in France. She begins with a lyrically beautiful retelling of her childhood, christened by her family’s deep belief in a God who celebrates with them, watches over them, and engages in long, intimate conversations that probe Luidens’s youthful musings. But as she grows, Luidens’s understanding of God transforms; when her reflections on what happens after death lead her to difficult questions, she discovers, in the absence of answers, a growing unease with the religion she grew up with.

Luidens writes with a philosophical hand, gently—but passionately—rifling through the religious precepts she was taught as a youth and sifting their weight against the reality she observes in the world around her. Her time spent attending a Christian college is recounted with fresh and frank power, revealing indecision, mistrust, and, above all, desperate yearning to hear God speak directly to her as he did when she was a child. When that fails—“I couldn’t hear his voice or sense his love. I couldn’t feel God. I used to, didn’t I? Not anymore” she laments—Luidens is plagued with a black, questioning cloud that eats at everything she’s ever known, eventually leading her to ruminate about her own death.

The last section of the memoir rebounds with hope, as Luidens travels to France to study abroad. Her time there is spent lapping up the local culture while holding conversations with long gone philosophers (David Hume characterizes her belief in God as a consequence of what she was taught growing up), wading through her anger, disappointment, and, in many ways, heartbreak at being failed by organized religion. The memoir closes, fittingly, on an intangible note, mirroring Luidens’s ongoing struggle to reconcile her newfound awakenings with those “past versions of myself.”

Takeaway: Contemplative reflections on religion, philosophy, and mortality.

Comparable Titles: Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, Rachel Held Evans’s Wholehearted Faith.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A