This lyrical, compelling novel is the story of a struggling Vietnam vet who seeks out a young nun in 1974 after his best friend in the Army has committed suicide. As Benny Finn and Sister Clare come to know each other at a New Hampshire abbey over the course of one summer, they open themselves, with courage, to the difficult truths of their lives. This novel brings a lucid and compassionate eye to the senseless brutality of war, PTSD, memory’s hauntings, and the human capacity for renewal through love and understanding.
Chessman was in the process of revising The Beauty of Ordinary Things when she first spoke to Jonathan Berger about writing a libretto for My Lai, an opera commissioned by Kronos Quartet and composed by Berger, about Hugh Thompson, the American helicopter pilot who intervened in the massacre of South Vietnamese citizens by American soldiers on March 16, 1968. Her libretto shares with The Beauty of Ordinary Things a sense of how difficult it can be to hold on to a moral compass in the midst of a chaotic and ugly war, and how profound the effects of war can be, even on someone who did the best he could to remain ethical.
Atelier26, an independent micro-press in Portland, Oregon, founded by M. Allen Cunningham in 2011, has produced a beautiful edition of this novel. The artist Nathan Shields has created the stunning cover design and interior graphic elements, including the upside-down boot and the fleur-de-lys.
Sara Budzik, Foreword Magazine, November 30, 2013
“A beautiful étude of humanity. Harriet Scott Chessman succeeds in writing a song of the soul in The Beauty of Ordinary Things. … Her writing is like poetry spoken in real, soft voices. It would be hard to close this book and not feel changed.”
“Filled with precise, loving observations of human nature, The Beauty of Ordinary Things is a slender, wise triumph of a novel, exquisitely distilled. Read this book; it will open your heart.”
—Michelle Richmond, author of The Year of Fog
“This beautiful short novel is populated by characters connected to each other by filaments of memory, regret and yearning. Each strand is lovely on its own, and the whole is captivating, radiant, mysterious, and deeply moving. I loved it.”
—Ann Packer, bestselling author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier
“The Beauty of Ordinary Things is a soulful, tender, affecting novel, with complex, searching, sympathetic characters whose situations and plights one deeply cares about. Harriet Scott Chessman has written another wonderful book!”
—Ron Hansen, author of Mariette in Ecstasy and A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion
“A gorgeous meditation on love and spirit, grief and passion, that unfolds with startling elegance. It captivated and moved me in equal measure.”
— Carolina De Robertis, author of Perla
“Like Annie Dillard, Chessman plumbs the mysteries of the spirit and celebrates the quiet grace notes of the earth. The Beauty of Ordinary Things is deep as a prayer, a meditation on two people seeking their right place in the world. The book speaks softly, but oh how it lingers in the mind. I can’t praise it enough.”
— Debra Dean, author of The Madonnas of Leningrad
“The Beauty of Ordinary Things is an exquisitely written and profoundly moving story of love’s possibilities, powers, and consolations.”
— Priscilla Gilman, author of The Anti-Romantic Child
“The Beauty of Ordinary Things stays with one, hauntingly, long after one finishes reading. You will never forget Benny Finn or Sister Clare.”
— Maud Carol Markson, author of Looking After Pigeon
“Quite simply stunning. In an exquisite few pages, Harriet Scott Chessman delivers a gigantic story of one gentle man finding his way back to the beauty of an ordinary life, with the help of two women, a loving family, and one unexpected and surprisingly enchanting child.”
— Meg Waite Clayton, bestselling author of The Wednesday Daughters