June 2007

Erin Walter

nonfiction

Easter Everywhere by Darcey Steinke

Before we get to the pleasure that is Easter Everywhere, let's be thankful for what Darcey Steinke's new memoir is not. It's not a fire-and-brimstone tale of being born again, at least not in the evangelical Christian sense. There are no end-of-chapter checklists for how to come to Jesus or live a purpose-driven life. Steinke is not hell-bent on your conversion. And thank god. Because in writing a more subtle reflection on religion and spirituality, Steinke has crafted an engagingly quirky memoir that may indeed prompt some soul-searching (but only if that's your thing -- no pressure!).

Easter Everywhere is a novelist's look back at her adventurous, unconventional youth and young adulthood in a family full of ministers. Her father's work regularly uprooted the family to a new parish ("'God is on the move,' my dad liked to say"), and her former beauty queen mother wasn't always so happy to go along for the ride. "Anything could set her off: the flush of a toilet or my father telling her there was no cottage cheese. She'd say, I can't live like this anymore." Darcey Steinke's maternal grandmother preferred to lounge in the yard while everyone else went to church, and the author and her mother also seemed to long for a life more Hollywood than holy roller.

The early pages of Easter Everywhere are chock-full of charming childhood memories, many resulting from church members' distaste for Steinke's irreverent nature. Young Darcey strained to imagine "what it would be like to be inside the baby brain of God" during a Christmas pageant rendition of "What Child Is This," and unsuccessfully sneaked a snack from the church's communal wafers, suffering the consequences of a grumbling stomach and an even more grumbling church elder. One day, as Darcey and her brother belted "I Got You Babe" as a duet on the sanctuary altar, "a bald man in a windbreaker came in and yelled at us so furiously that to this day the combination of baldness and windbreakers makes me tremble."

Even at a very young age, Steinke found herself trying to balance the carefree nature of childhood with the soul-searching that underlies daily life in a minister's household. Everything became a religious ceremony, even playtime, when Darcey would officiate marriage ceremonies for anyone and anything that would allow it. "Life was not a requisite for marriage," she writes. "I married the jungle gym to the swing set and the toaster to the blender. I made marriages that would better both parties, darkness to Popsicles and bath time to cotton candy." In her nighttime prayers, she wished for, "the sick baby to live, my mother to be happy, the Fisher-Price cash register I was hoping to get for Christmas, ...animals to talk and grass to be lime-flavored candy."

Easter Everywhere moves on into Steinke's adolescence, where her social skills are hampered by a severe stutter she vows to overcome, and into her adulthood, complete with motherhood, maternity, and a rollercoaster ride with religion. The little, unexpected moments of memory and reflection are what set Steinke's memoir apart from so many others in the genre. She peppers her journey with poetic observations (in despairing a divorce, "God flew out of the world") as well as light descriptions of the characters in her life, such as neighbors she visits with her young daughter: "Whenever we appeared at their pool around five, Dr. Howorth came out holding a popsicle for Abbie and a gin and tonic for me. Abbie, now three, sometimes ran around naked on their huge expanse of grass and once asked me, near the end of our stay, if she could 'poop in their yard for a treat.'"

Steinke's gift as a writer is in mining relatable aspects of life -- parental relationships, the awkwardness of youth, and the uncertainty of young adulthood -- and viewing them through a lens that is both spiritual and secular. While religion permeated the author's upbringing, she never lets her memoir get bogged down in dogma. There are always buoyant moments of humor for balance. And in the end, the author makes a strong choice -- leaving some of her religious questions unanswered. Steinke writes, "My doubt funnels my faith. To me doubt connects to the mystery of God much more than certainty. The finite cannot contain the infinite." Easter Everywhere left me pondering my own spiritual life -- and hoping that Darcey Steinke has saved some of her unforgettable stories for another memoir.

Easter Everywhere by Darcey Steinke
Bloomsbury
ISBN: 1582345309
240 Pages