Lynnette Dobberpuhl's Reviews > Sea Level

Sea Level by Nancy Hayes Kilgore
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Sea Level by Nancy Kilgore is set in Sand Hill, Virginia, a small town on a sand bar between Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It is here in 1980 that Brigid Peterson takes the pulpit of the Methodist Church. At nearly the same time Mary Bradley, an artist who had fled the stifling community for New York, returns to the town of her birth. Both women seek a fresh start and a sense of wholeness and wittingly or not, are on a journey to better understand the nature of God. Their journeys intertwine with each other and with the townspeople’s jealously guarded traditions and history.

I grew up in a small Midwest town in the 70’s and 80’s, and our Methodist Church was the first church I’d heard of to be appointed a woman minister. I remember being both highly enthusiastic that a woman could be a minister and bemused by her unusual ideas and ways. I had no idea when I opened the cover of the book that Sea Level would be the story of my own church and community, but it very nearly was. Kilgore lets the reader inside the surprisingly intense drama of church and small town politics, and the upheaval caused and experienced by women—who are also wives and mothers—taking church leadership for the first time.

Issues of feminism, racial barriers, substance abuse and friendship keep the story line from being one note. Conflict includes small-scale but individually devastating religious wars and power plays, as well as family dynamics and interpersonal entanglements. Kilgore’s depiction of both the frailty and humanity of each character (clergy or layperson,) keeps each of them from falling into the paradigm of either a monster or a hero. I confess that I am still figuring out how one part of the story line, relating to the cemetery, fits in with the whole. The ending is as true to real life as most of Kilgore’s novel, so don’t expect a tidy ending, but if you are seeking a tale on how to weather devastating metaphorical storms, and perhaps an eye-opening account of spirituality and the role of women in pastoral ministry, I recommend this book. I highly recommend it for church book clubs in particular, as I think most worship communities could see a bit of their own reflection within, even today. Even readers who eschew mainstream religious tradition will find a gripping story and some sympathy for the struggle to find God in a meaningful and deeply personal way.

Sea Level was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and is a print on demand book available by order from your local bookstore or through Read an excerpt and learn more about Kilgore on her website:

For more on my take of this book, visit my Wordtabulous blog:
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Reading Progress

May 14, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
December 29, 2011 – Finished Reading

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