What About Forgiveness?


Hillary Jordan is a master of her craft. Her most-recent novel, When She Woke, is a pleasure to read. She paints exquisite word pictures. The story is a clever attention-holder with layers of subtlety and unexpected twists and turns.

The main character in When She Woke, Hannah, is convicted of murder for aborting her unborn baby. The government, in league with fundamentalist Christianity, has adopted a policy of shaming law breakers via a technique called "chroming". A virus is injected into the convicted. The virus turns their skin a color corresponding to their crime. Hannah's skin is colored a deep red because she is a convicted murderer. Like the other chromes, Hannah is released back into society, her crime literally radiating from her skin - A Scarlet Letter, anyone?

In interviews, Jordan confirms what is clearly obvious as we read: She wrote against what she perceives as a rising tide of religious fundamentalism - and how that might threaten legal abortions. Whether or not her fears are founded, she has created a story that is consistent with history: When there is no separation between church and state bad things happen.

Jordan's story musters support for legal abortions by creating a strawman of what the world would be like without them. Most of the Christians in the story are portrayed as hypocritical haters. They fail to treat Hannah with love and forgiveness as demonstrated by Jesus Christ. (See the biblical account in John chapter 8, where Jesus says to a woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”)  The Christians in When She Woke have forgotten the teachings of Jesus. Far and away, most genuine Christians would not recognize the horrible caricatures Jordan creates of them. They would ask, "What about forgiveness?"

Despite the heavily negative, one-sided nature of Jordan's description of pro-lifers, a few interesting scenes make us question whether the haters are the full story. For example, there is a glimmer of love and, perhaps, forgiveness in the way Hannah's father continues to love and support her when the rest of the family has rejected her - or worse. There's a hint that the abortion is not without cost because Hannah mourns the loss of her daughter - to the point of giving her baby a name. When another character gives an unbiblical description of what 'her god' is like, Hannah legitimately wonders, briefly, if it's okay to define God based on feeling. These raise excellent questions worthy of deeper consideration. I am grateful that Jordan put these elements into the story, even if only in drive-by fashion.

In summary, I recommend When She Woke. It is an enjoyable read that contains important topics to consider. Just don't rely on it for a true depiction of Christianity.