Meredith's Reviews > The Cloister Walk

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
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's review
Feb 10, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: biography-memoir, nonfiction, book-discussion-selections

How does a poet with the thoroughly 1950's Protestant background wind up becoming an oblate at a Benedictine monastery? That question is the hook to draw the reader into this book. There are no straight forward answers, and instead The Cloister Walk is a series of mediations on various subjects both theological, monastic, secular, and autobiographical -- with plenty of literary references and quotes thrown in -- following as Norris participates in Benedictine worship thoroughout an entire liturgical year. Since each chapter lingers on a different topic, some are more interesting than others, and the pacing is awkward at times.

Readers curious about how ritual Catholic worship can play out spiritually in someone's everyday life will enjoy this book. Readers who don't care for religious talk in any tone will be bored.

The everyday details of life in a Benediction monastery and on a rural North Dakota farm scattered throughout the book are intriguing, but what struck me the most was when Norris touched upon sexual violence against women in her chapter pondering virgin martyrs. In her discussion of St. Maria Goretti, she mentions in passing that as a fifteen year-old she resisted an attack by a college student who she is "sure remembers the evening as a failed attempt at seduction" (p. 192). She felt that she was on the verge of being date-raped, and he just thought he was having an unsuccessful date. That horrified me. The idea that this is a such commonplace occurrence that it can be treated in a light matter-of-fact manner, it horrified me.

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