Everyone approximately my age, and the detail itself need not be mentioned, from Freeport Illinois knows the story of Midnight Mary. So, when I saw that James VanOosting published a novel, called Walking Mary, and built the central character on the Midnight Mary we all had come to know, I had to read it — even if it meant reading a novel.
Let me tell the story. As a child, I grew up knowing the myth and the reality of Midnight Mary. Her son went off to WW2 and never came back; for the rest of her life, she went to the train station daily to check out the train to see if her son was returning. It is the story of a tragedy, of course. As kids, we were afraid of Midnight Mary — she wore black, she mumbled, and the stories about her grew and grew into the myths. We saw her often downtown — walking, talking and riding buses. She haunted us all.
I wonder how many of you have read novels rooted in places you know well; in characters known to you???
Now here’s something else about Walking Mary: the author lived in the home we once lived in before the author’s family moved on. And, the author and I went to church together for a few years before they moved into the suburbs of Chicago.
The book is the story of redemption: VanOosting redeems Midnight Mary from the myth of possession, madness, and intimidation and he turns her into a figure of redemption — and he does so at times at the expense of the Baptist church we grew up in and at the expense of the father figure in the book. I’ll not tell you anymore. But, I found the book engrossing.
I wondered, as I read through this book, how often we are given the opportunity to redeem characters in our life, how often we can end the myth of demonizing others and, by simple acts of kindness and inclusion, transform them from the myth around them to the reality that is in them. That’s what this book did to me over and over.
Lots of details have been changed: Midnight Mary becomes an African American Walking Mary; Lincoln Blvd seems to be the combination at times of both Lincoln and Stephenson (another street on which my family lived); and I love it that he brings up Lincoln Grade school — though I’m not sure he’s got the Boys entrance at the right location. Our old neighbor, Ronnie Shasker, is a tough in the book.
The book says Ages 12 and above; I don’t know what this means. It sure didn’t read like that level to me.