Madapple by Christina Meldrum

Accused of murder, a troubled young woman tries to piece together the odd facets of her life, starting with her supposed immaculate conception.

The chapters in Madapple alternate between a teasingly opaque courtroom case, and defendant Aslaug’s reminiscences about life with her disturbed mother and eventual reunion with her long lost aunt and cousins. Nothing about Aslaug’s life has been ordinary. Her mother claimed that Aslaug had no father because she had never had a lover. She raised Aslaug in the woods, among the plants and herbs that she studied for their powers, healing and otherwise.

Upon the death of her mother, Aslaug set out on her own and discovered the family she never knew: her aunt, the pastor of a Pentecostal church, and her children, Aslaug’s cousins. Susanne is a pagan with mystical leanings who deconstructs the Christianity of her mother’s calling. Rune, her brother, is instantly familiar to Aslaug, and disturbingly compelling as well. Add an off-kilter pregnant teen and a murder investigation to the mix, and Madapple has a gripping intensity and intellectual heft that sets it apart.

I’m often unable to get through books that are overtly critical of Christianity, not because they threaten my faith but because I just don’t enjoy them. Madapple was a surprising exception, because the criticism played an actual role in character and plot development. I enjoyed Susanne’s excursions into Gnostic theology because they amplified the suspense of the murder trial. Outstanding book.

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