In the Confessions, Augustine writes “my heart is restless until it rests in you.” In a book that describes Augustine’s many failures, particularly his failure to sufficiently love others, this phrase explicitly explains Augustine’s incapacity to find peace until he is moved to have faith in God, the source, he understands, of all love and life. At the same time, however, his confession is a confession of the finite world – a world that is forever in motion, constantly changing, and never at rest – a world in which all people participate, perhaps give into, but one in which we at the same time all hope to discover a sign of our and its possible redemption. Our hearts are restless.
David Adams Richards latest book, Mary Cyr, translates the argument of Augustine for the contemporary world, replacing the image of the long-dead philosopher and saint, with a woman who is so alive, alive in her hatred but most especially in her love, that your heart beats alongside hers. Orphaned at a young age, Mary is adopted by her extended family which has the capacity for coldness. She is abused, marries three times, befriends those who are down-trodden only to tragically lose them, has and loses a son. She spends her life travelling – from NB, to New York, to Europe to Toronto and back home, finally ending up in Mexico. She seeks revenge for real injustices, only to regret what she has done. She sometimes treats innocent people callously and is treated callously by many others. She forgives, asks for forgiveness and begins again. Our hearts are restless.
The story, which finds Mary in a Mexican jail for a crime she did not commit, works as a detective novel. Like Mary, the narrative of the novel is not straightforward. It moves from present to the past and across great distances , sometimes in the space of a page or two. The answer as to who has committed the murder, requires that we follow the clues wherever they lead. We, along with John Delano, seek to discover the truth even among the terrible tragedies that we discover along the way. For, perhaps, the truth can bring peace. Our hearts, you see, are restless.
Part of the plot involves a mining accident, in which several men needlessly died when their mine shaft, which had collapsed, was then prematurely filled in to cover up the mining company’s malfeasance. Trapped underground, one of the miners taps his spoon against a plate, hoping that someone will hear them and come to their rescue. Through the course of novel we are brought back to this sound – tap, tap, tap – the man’s son has captured it on a tape recorder and tries to use the tape to achieve justice for his father. Coming, as it were from the of the earth, this tapping, is the beating of yet another heart, that of the world itself. Our hearts are restless.
The novel ends in yet another tragedy. And yet the suggestion of the novel is one of hope. Once all that has happened comes to light, seemingly too late to do anyone good, we are plaintively asked if all things can only be known after the fact. And of course this is in some way true. We can only know what has happened after it is. All knowledge, as it were, comes after the fact.
St. Augustine and Richards ask us to have faith that all of the tragedies of the the finite world will be redeemed, somehow after our deaths. We can’t know if these promises are true. We can only know them after the fact. The novel, however, suggests that there is sufficient evidence in the world to recommend our hope. In the course of the novel, the truth does come out. The tapping that resonates from the earth is both a sign of our restlessness and its solution. The world reminds us that there a heart which answers ours. It makes itself manifest in the world around us, in the very space and time that so often seems to confound. In the novel, the tap, tap, tap of the many restless hearts are heard and the truth is eventually known. And some people find peace, some, we hope, eternally.