Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Readers of THE BOOK OF THE DUN COW (1978) remember Walter Wangerin, Jr., as a storyteller who can make heroes out of barnyard chickens. They may also remember his masterful use of language filled with biblical and medieval resonances.

In MIZ LIL AND THE CHRONICLES OF GRACE, Wangerin turns his sharp eye on his own life. The pattern he discovers is evocative of George Herbert’s shaped poem “Easter-Wings,” which opens the book. It is a movement from breadth to constriction, opening out to breadth again--or, in theological terms, from creation to a fall (sin, a constriction into self-centeredness), then a release into grace.

Wangerin’s autobiographical essays are arranged in a complex design. Tales of his encounters with the people of the black inner-city parish he pastored as an adult alternate with stories from his childhood. The childhood stories begin with concrete memories of the love of his mother, “a woman of eager intensities,” and of his grandfather, a dignified Moses of a man, superintendent of a St. Louis cemetery. As childhood passes, however, young Wally turns from the heart of his family’s faith--love of God--though he continues to observe its forms, which happen to be Lutheran. The movement of the childhood stories, then, is a narrowing and a hardening; Wally’s discovery of his capacity for cruelty, in the heartrending story “Horstman,” is placed near the end of the book.

Braided in with these stories...

(The entire section is 427 words.)