Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: Saint Sebastian's Head by LeAnn Neal Reilly

Saint Sebastian’s Head is an incredibly moving novel about one woman’s journey from a childhood of dark tragedy to the light of healing that can come from love.

When Weeble, an engineer training for a triathlon, meets artist Tom Paul as she runs by him one night while he’s dumpster-diving, the pretend okay world she’s constructed for herself begins to crumble, forcing her to face the traumatic past that still haunts her subconscious, ruling her life and relationships despite how hard she’s tried to bury it.  Revealing the inner demons that torment Weeble through flashes to her childhood, author LeAnn Neal Reilly slowly introduces readers to a harrowing tale of neglect, abuse and, ultimately, horror, while the present-day relationship between Weeble and Tom Paul and the intricate interplay of mysticism and harsh reality, faith and doubt, light and darkness, underlies her journey to healing.

Beautiful prose, wonderful character development and a fairy tale-like symbolism make what could have otherwise been only a painfully dark story into a poetic and spiritual read about the human strength we don’t always realize we possess, even when crippled by tragedy, as well as a touching, light-filled love story.  Because there was quite a bit of emphasis on Tom Paul’s Orthodox spirituality and the mystic nature he brought out in his art, I would have been interested in a bit more understanding of his past relationships, as these do play a part in the story but sometimes left me wondering about his desire for a deeper relationship with Weeble before a physical one, while it seemed he might not have required or found this with past romantic relationships.  However, this could be simply due to my own interest in theology and how one’s worldview impacts every part of one’s life, and the sense that maybe I didn’t have as much insight into his character as I might have liked, in this particular regard, didn’t in any way take from the story.  In the end, I found it extremely well-written and a fascinating and meaningful novel with much to reflect on long after reading.  Highly recommended for outstanding writing and its emotional and spiritual complexity, I look forward to reading more by this talented author.

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