The stories of the women living in the Convent form the center of Paradise. Although the women are unknown to one another when each arrives at the house, they quickly form a community. Each woman is running away from a particularly bad situation in life and finds some redemption in the community at the Convent.
Formerly a nun in Brazil, Mary Magna moved into the embezzler’s mansion outside of Ruby in order to establish a school for Native American girls. Soon, however, the last student has passed through the Convent’s doors, and Mary begins her slow decline. Although she figures little in the novel after her death, she symbolizes the spiritual power of the women who follow her.
Connie becomes the spiritual leader of the Convent after Mary’s death. Before assuming this role, however, she engages in an affair with Deacon Morgan, one of the men who eventually attacks the Convent. Devastated when he ends their affair, Connie sinks into alcoholism before the plight of the women around her rouses her to spiritual healing. Her openness to spiritual vision and to the supernatural provides her with powers of healing and insight that help transform the women but that the men of the town view as witchcraft. In the opening scene of the novel, Connie tries to heal the white girl who has been shot, only to be shot herself by Steward Morgan, the identical twin of her former lover.
Mavis Albright is the first of the outsiders to arrive at the Convent. Abused by her husband and frightened of him, she accidently leaves her twins, Merle and Pearl, locked in a car on a hot day, and they suffocate. Although she has other children—whom she visits at least once in the novel—she is afraid of them as well as of her husband, so, having visited her mother, she drifts westward without purpose. She hears the voices of her dead children at the Convent, so she remains there. Mavis often looks down on the sexual behavior of the other women in the Convent. In her post-attack appearance, Mavis reunites with her daughter.
(The entire section is 841 words.)