The world undergoes a radical, inexplicable change in Kaethe Schwehn’s novel, “The Rending and the Nest.”
In a twinkling, much of the population — as well as flora and fauna — vanishes, physical structures are undermined in mysterious ways, and enormous heaps — which the inhabitants call Piles — appear containing a hodgepodge of items that are creatively repurposed. This is not the biblical Rapture. Those left behind call it the Rending, a name also drawn from Christian Scripture but with a different connotation.
The story is narrated by Mira, a young woman who has helped create a community known as Zion, located not far from Zion Township in Minnesota. The equilibrium of the makeshift town is shaken when Zion’s women begin giving birth to seemingly random inanimate objects. Soon, a sense of ceremony attends these births — until a charismatic visitor threatens to undermine everything about Zion.
Schwehn, who graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with an MFA in poetry, crafts her altered world with care and her characters with empathy. Mira’s story isn’t focused on figuring out why the Rending happened, but on how to make a life after it has. Raised by a minister, Mira has lost the surety of her faith, and the novel is deeply interested in how meaning might be made in the face of the apparently meaningless.
On an unobtrusively meta level, the novel also is about the creation of narratives and the shaping of one’s own story even as others might try to assign significance your experiences or actions might mean.
The ending of the novel is deeply satisfying, not because the book’s mysteries are explained away, but because Mira has fully embraced her own story — and found someone to whom to tell it.
This beautiful, sad, hopeful novel is highly recommended.
l What: Kaethe Schwehn will read from “The Rending and the Nest,” and poet Kiki Petrosino will read from “Witch Wife”
l When: 7 p.m. Friday
l Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
l Cost: Free