Sea Level, set in a remote area of the Delmarva Peninsula in 1980, is the story of Brigid Peterson, the first woman minister in the town of Sand Hill. At a time when women’s roles are shifting and women are beginning to enter the clergy, Brigid’s idealism and emerging feminism begin to disrupt the church. Brigid befriends Mary Bradley, an artist who has fallen hopelessly in love with an elusive carpenter. Impressed by Mary’s love of nature and belief in the goddess, she preaches about the female side of God, but then the church is plunged into turmoil and divides into bitter factions over her.
Sea Level is a story about ordinary small town life, the mystical landscape of the Delmarva Peninsula, and the passions that erupt over conflicts of belief.
REVIEWS OF SEA LEVEL
“Sea Level carries the reader through the knotty patterns of grace and orneriness of a rural, coastal Virginia church as it rides the waves in accepting its first female minister, Brigid Peterson.” Laura Delaplain on Her Circle Ezine See full review: Sea Level review on Her Circle
“. . . what a pleasure… a simple plot fleshed out and crafted beautifully and originally, like one of Mary’s canvases. The scenes are so vividly painted, the characters so carefully created, that I feel like I’ve been to Sand Hill, visited with Mary and… Brigid, and care for them enough that a day later, I am still thinking about them, wondering what happens next.” – Tania Aebi, author of Maiden Voyage
“More than just a novel about a woman in ministry; more than just a tale about a small town church; Sea Level is a story about life and the real ways we learn to live in community. A touching narrative about things that matter.” – Lynne Hinton, author of Friendship Cake and Pie Town
“Sea Level brings to life the tensions that inevitably arise when a new minister is taken on by a congregation mired in its traditions and uncertain whether it wants leadership or obedience. The novel’s heroine, Brigid Peterson, is newly ordained and convinced she should guide her small Virginia church toward solvency and authentic openness. But she is a woman and a feminist, as well as a wife and mother, and she faces resistance from the start. Her story is a cautionary tale, which she survives with both grace and dignity, though not before an agonizing assessment of her vocation.” – C. Michael Curtis, Fiction Editor, The Atlantic
“Of course, the future isn’t the only place to look for stories of communities bound by shared spirituality. Nancy Kilgore, who lives in Vermont and practices psychotherapy in Hanover, N.H., has crafted a quietly absorbing one in her first novel, Sea Level. >This is the type of book big publishers often bypass because they assume its audience is limited — in this case, to readers interested in the troubled intersection of feminism and organized religion. Set in 1980, Sea Level introduces us to Brigid Peterson, a suburban Virginia wife who feels called to the Methodist ministry but encounters more than she bargained for when she steps into the pulpit in a small-town church on the Delmarva Peninsula. As her parishioners oppose her attempts to introduce mildly nontraditional language to the service, she finds herself questioning the patriarchal aspects of her faith. >While its cover copy makes it sound like a well-meaning, rather stiff novel of ideas, Sea Level is actually a vibrant story of manners and place. Kilgore brings to life a world of ocean mists, oyster fairs and elderly, quince-jelly-making Southern ladies who grow militant at the hint of a threat to their precious fund for the caretaking of the cemetery. Their lives and their reasons for resisting Brigid’s innovations are never caricatured. Kilgore has obvious affection for this coastal world of “wet gray light,” which already belongs partly to memory — “they’re even saying we might all be oystered out soon,” notes one old-timer. >When the subject is theology, the novel can become talky. But, in her evocative descriptions of the town of Sand Hill from the point of view of Mary Bradley, an artist who returns home from Manhattan and falls in love with a difficult, elusive man, Kilgore treads the same territory as Alice Munro. It’s quiet, indeed, but for readers who prefer the domestic to the apocalyptic, Sea Level is worth seeking.” – Margot Harrison, Seven Days