Val Brelinski’s The Girl Who Slept with God
by: Rebecca Evans
The Girl Who Slept with God, by Val Brelinski, is both a tragic and coming of age memoir infused with elegant writing of religion, hardship, and courage. Grace Quanbeck, at seventeen, has just returned from a mission trip in Mexico and is pregnant. Her father, Dr. Quanbeck, a Havard-educated astronomer, reacts and moves Grace and her younger sister, Jory, just shy of fourteen, to a home away from their religious community and private Christian school set in rural Arco, Idaho in the 1970’s. Their new house, next door to Hilda Kleinfelter, who later becomes a strong support role as a surrogate parental figure.
Grace insists the baby is God’s child, like Mary and the immaculate conception. Is this the truth? Is she in denial from a traumatic rape? Is she simply crazy? Any of these options seem viable and, as the story unfolds, these questions remain unanswered through the eyes of the narrator, young Jory. Brelinski blends this coming-of-age story with the challenges of socialization for a teen whose circumstances create isolation and conflict.
Jory’s mother closes herself off from the world, struggling with anger and appearing addicted to prescription pain medicine. Crazy seems viable. Grace remains shut down, demanding and strong-willed, wearing the same clothing for months at a time, never leaving their safe-house. Denial seems feasible. Grace, a devoted Christian, follows Biblical rules not just as law, but as if her life depended on it. An immaculate conception seems plausible.
Jory struggles to maintain a sense of herself and discover her own identity. She gains an education on becoming a teenager in her new secular school, attending a dance for the first time, a taste of alcohol, and an accidental LSD trip. Her friend, Rhea, becomes someone Jory longs to align with, along with Rhea’s enticing influence on Jory into the world of teen-exploration. Their distant new neighbor, Hilda, holds as a source of stable foundation, even shopping with Jory for her first new dress. The ice cream man, Grip, older by a decade and Jory’s first kiss, gains a close friendship with the sisters. Later, Grip plays a critical role in a turn of events, capsizing this story.
Brelinski’s uses third-person narrative point of view through Jory’s eyes, allowing the story to read like a novel instead of a personal teen journal. Through this approach, Brelinski shows Jory’s thoughts but uses beautiful prose and metaphors, “Jory stared up through the station wagon’s huge windshield at the frozen-looking stars. She could see forever with her new microscope/telescope vision, which allowed her to zoom in and out over and through great distances. ‘I’m a star,’ she said to Rhea.” (p. 191). Jory’s ability to see beyond what’s in front of her, all the while evaluating current circumstances with wisdom beyond her youth, demonstrating her hard-earned life-knowledge.
The story lags a bit in the center, when Jory finds her freedom as a teen. Brelinski places scenes that do the same work side by side, plateauing the emotional arc instead of advancing it. Brelinski’s work does offer a balance of the dysfunction of family life, religion, and identity with believable characters that come to life. Similar to “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, The Girl Who Slept with God has one inevitable end, yet there remains an element of believable surprise. Brelinski’s gift with this inevitable ending presides in establishment. Brelinski’s build of psychological traits in Grace, Jory, Grip and Dr. Quanbeck, create a laser-focus, that not only shapes, but drives the story to this one final moment.
Rebecca Evans served eight years in the United States Air Force, and is a decorated Gulf War veteran. She hosts the Our Voice television show, advocating personal stories, and mentors teens in the juvenile system. She held the title of Mrs. Idaho International and earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from Boise State University and honored with the BSU “Women Making History in Idaho” award. Her work has appeared in Gravel Literary magazine and is forthcoming in Scribes Weekly’s Anthology and Fiction Southeast She’s currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Sierra Nevada College and serves on the editorial staff of the Sierra Nevada Review. Born in Chicago and raised in Northern Indiana, she currently lives in Idaho with her three sons.