“It’s like Graham Greene or something. I mean, who converts anymore? Unless they’re converting away.”
This is what the publicist says in hopes of putting the best spin on the oddity of Sophie Wilder, the critically acclaimed young writer, converting to Christianity, in Christopher Beha’s novel, What Happened to Sophie Wilder?
It’s intriguing to see a recent novel take conversion seriously, like Graham Greene or something. Here is the description of Sophie’s turn to God:
It is in the nature of what happened next that it can’t be conveyed in words. The few times Sophie tried to explain it later, even to herself, she fell back on cliche: something came over her; she walked out changed. It got closest to it to say that she was, for a time, occupied. After all her reading in the week leading up to that day, she thought of that occupying force as the Holy Spirit. But mostly she knew that it was something outside of herself, something real, not an idea or a conceit or a metaphor. Once it passed on, she knew that her very outline had been reshaped by it, that this reshaping had been long awaited though she hadn’t recognized as much. More than that, she knew that she wanted the feeling back. She would chase it forever if need be. Everything later followed from that. That was the part she couldn’t explain to others. It couldn’t be explained. It didn’t come from books; it didn’t allow itself to be argued for or against.
The author does have a passing moment on one page where he refers to Sophie not knowing that such a sensation was quite independent of any particular religion. That’s the only interruption of the flow; the author’s bias otherwise seems to stay off the stage and Sophie is allowed to be a real character who processes her conversion to (Catholic) Christianity intellectually and emotionally.
There are plenty of observations throughout the book on how the Christian message is regarded in our day, such as this one:
“It’s funny,” he said. “After all this time, people still can’t do without God. I never would have guessed that He’d survive to your generation. Even the atheists are militant. They can’t quite get over Him.”
“Most of my friends don’t think one way or another about it,” Sophie told him. “They’re not for it or against it; they’re just beyond it.”
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe. The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
“You’ve got a real way with words,” she said.
The book was recommended when I posted on social media a request for recommendations of books, preferably recent books, that included a Christian conversion of one of the characters as part of the plot.