Reviews

Latest Review on Her Circle Ezine: Laura Delaplain reviews Nancy Kilgore’s newly-released first novel, Sea Level, about the first female minister in a rural, coastal Virginia church of the 1980s: “Kilgore skillfully weaves theological diversity, lived spirituality, and indigenous belief into this tale of grace.” Read more from this review… here

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.”
Seven Days: Vermont’s Independent Voice, May 11- 18 Issue

“Kilgore’s tale of a church in turmoil captures the mean spiritedness of petty politics in a small community – and how a death provides a chance for communal redemption.”
– Deborah Lee Luskin, author of Into the Wilderness

“…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. The contemplations on nature, small towns, faith, life, relationships, and misunderstandings are compelling and thoughtful.”
– 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