I first experienced Meg Tilly via her Golden Globe winning
onscreen portrayal of an enigmatic young nun named Sister Agnes (Agnes of God, 1985). Her mysterious
encounters with God trigger investigator Dr. Martha Livingstone (Jane Fonda)
into a spiritual crisis which may just lead her back to faith. The providential
interface between Agnes’ spirituality and Livingstone’s cynicism impacted me.
It mirrored my own internal struggles as a young theology student whose heart
and head were plagued by a serious disconnect.
Twenty years later, it’s happening again. Meg Tilly left the acting trade to pick up the novelist’s pen. I’ve only just discovered her body of work and I’m pleased to say that I have not emerged unscathed. In each of her first three books—Singing Songs, Gemma and Porcupine—we hear the authentic voice and feel the true heart of courageous young girls who reflect some aspect of Tilly’s reality. The stories reveal an acquaintance with grief and fight and hope that are deeper than fiction. They have the capacity to heal.
Singing Songs: Therapeutic Uses
According to Meg’s blog (www.officialmegtilly.com), her
first book, Singing Songs, accesses
memories of her childhood (age 5-7) through the voice of Anna. This little girl
fast became my hero. Written in first person, we follow Anna’s reflections
through several years of hilarious joy (the creation of “poo pies”) and
horrendous pain (including molestation). Her child-logic gives us a window into
the surprising ways that children process, cope with and rise to face the
dysfunctional world around them.
Singing Songs is
an unheard of recipe of graphic and sensitive material that I have adopted for
therapeutic use with adults in search of healing for their own childhood
traumas. The response I hear is, “This is my story. I was Anna…” The active
ingredient in this written prescription is that Anna walks the reader through
their denial into a place of strength and hope.
With their permission, two women that were assigned the book
respond below from the perspective of their healing journey. The first is
Heidi, who recently found a wounded inner child called “Little Heidi.”
The timing of last week’s first real connection with this little girl inside (which is a miracle, a real life miracle) and you meeting Meg and sharing her book is quite the timing.
The amazing thing brad is, Little Heidi loves Anna and Katie and Jimmie. Listening to them and watching them, she gets feeling sick inside at times, but she isn't scared and it doesn't make her want to hide again. And she laughs at other times. That's unbelievable for her. I think somehow Anna is part of the doorway for Heidi. I don't know how else to explain it
we finished the book.
I loved most of it.
Some of it made me crawl under Jesus armpit.
It made me remember things I didn't even know happened to me.
I'm glad you are there with me cause I really do need you.
I liked all the funny parts of the book.
I think Anna in the book is very strong.
I wish I was that strong like her
Maybe I'm a little bit like her, do you think?
I think tomorrow I will take a peek in Gemma, just to look.
Gemma: Projected God Images
[* not appropriate for children under 15]
Eve refers to Meg’s second book, Gemma, which takes Singing Songs to another level. In the first half of the story, Gemma, a 12-year old girl, is taken by a predator on an extended cross-country road-trip of sexual and physical abuse. The brave young girl survives by the magnificent use of her vivid imagination. The story alternates between Gemma’s point of view and that of the perpetrator. For Tilly, this must have been an enormously courageous emotional and literary exercise. In the second half of the book—and it required a full 50% of the pages—we read of Gemma’s healing journey in the context of a safe home. She learns the power of unconditional love to restore a shattered person. The climax of the story had me on pins and needles and then left me in heart-changing tears, because I know this story—this real story.
One of the great contributions of Gemma was in contrasting the conceptions and projections of God between the little girl and her abuser. Gemma knows a God who loves her and cares for her:
Compare that to the god that Hazen (the villain) believes in, according to this internal rant after he’s met with a priest:
F*** forgiveness! That’s not God’s way! Screw forgiveness! He’s gonna kill the little slut. Kill the little two-faced bitch that got him into this mess in the first place. Kill her nice and slow.
Porcupine: A Time to Fight; A Time to Let Go
For those who find Singing
Songs or Gemma too graphic, but
want to share Meg Tilly’s courage and hope with the YA (young adult) crowd, her
latest novel, Porcupine, is perfect.
It’s the story of a young girl named Jack who must deal with the grief of
losing her father to the war in Afghanistan. We
This astounding novel will guide the young (and not so young) reader through the emotional crises of loss and grief, unexpected changes such as moving and death, and the pain of abandonment, loneliness, learning difficulties and bullying (just a sampling). Porcupine will be required reading in my home, assisting me in parenting my youngest son through some recent disappointments.
Porcupine once again highlights Tilly’s profound gift at thinking and feeling at the level of her characters. We watch and learn from the inside how a young person might discover when to fight and when to let go, when to stand up and when to stand down, when to take space and where to make space. All this comes to a stunning, picturesque finale that left me smiling with wonder and impatiently tapping my fingers as I wait for Meg’s next book, “Lucky”.
I understand that reviews, however positive, ought not to be gushy. Forgive me, but it gets worse. Imagine my delight when my friend Brita called to share that Meg had taken time to go out for lunch with her and to coach her through some breakthroughs in her own upcoming novel.[ii] Brita suggested that I pop into the Surrey writers’ conference where I could meet Meg in person at the book-signing event. She assured me that I would find her as “wide” (referring to Meg’s free and expansive spirit) as her books.
Indeed, I was not disappointed! Briefly, I believe that some folks have hearts big enough to fill a large room and that those who enter will be treated to a taste of that person’s predominant virtues. What I felt immediately even as I entered the room was a light of hope emanating from Meg and warming the whole place. There’s a genuine kindness to her that is so attractive that I felt like I wanted to just sit at her feet for a while. It’s obvious to me why her bookstore reading events are so successful. You get the sense she enjoys being herself and radiating her hard-won hope to others.
As an aside, I’ve become a regular visitor to her blog, where she freely shares her heart and her favourite recipes. With Brita’s direction, I even had a hand in making Meg’s marvelous beef stroganoff. The blog is a great venue for readers to enjoy Meg's inspiring thoughts while preserving her family's privacy. I'm thankful for this little window into such a generous life.