Kathryn Davis on Exploring Thin Places

Kathryn Davis is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to fully engage myself with for a while now, ever since I found a batch of her earlier books on sale at Housing Works a few years ago. Well, life’s kept intervening since then with its own ideas, but now that Davis has just published her sixth novel, The Thin Place, maybe it’s time for me to pull it together and get cracking. In the meantime, she was kind enough to tell me, and by extension you, about the inspiration for her story.

kdavis.jpgI first heard of thin places five years ago, while visiting a friend who was a lay member of a religious community—St. Mary’s Convent—high on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River outside of Peekskill. At the time one of the sisters was very sick, ill unto death. Plans were already in motion to commence the ritual ringing of the bell—the number of times it would ring being equal to the number of years of her life—when, miraculously, she recovered. “It’s because this is a thin place,” Sister Anastasia told me, going on to explain that in such a place the membrane between this world and the spirit world was very thin. Anything can happen in a thin place, she told me.

At that time, there were two Malawi sisters at the convent, participants in an exchange program between the world’s richest and the world’s poorest country. When the two Malawi sisters had arrived they’d been like scarecrows, but they were quickly gaining weight. When they heard the convent referred to as a thin place, they burst out laughing. “This is a fat place!” said Sister Martha, though of course the very fact that they were there at all was, as Sister Anastasia pointed out, very thin.

I was immensely attracted to this idea, and knew I wanted to write a book about a thin place in which “anything could happen.” I also knew that I wanted the frame of reference to be wide as well as thin, in order to accommodate my concerns about extinction, and about what we’re doing to this planet during our brief tenure here—the wages of “human time too thin to be discerned.”

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3 January 2006 | guest authors |