whoa! if you thought catholic girls' schools were scary, you'll get all kinds of reinforcement from poet Priscila Uppal's debut novel. Angela's been driven to the convent by guilt related to a tragedy at St. X. School for Girls. That guilt becomes panic when she receives a package from an unknown sender containing an item that's central to the 20-year-old incident.
Flipping from her school past to her convent-bound present, Angela recounts the pain of being sent away from her dying mother and the jealousies and insecurities of boarding school life. In the meantime, as Sister Angela, she's helping a teenager through a difficult pregnancy while pondering salvation and how to get it.
Uppal's prose is lucid and supple -- she's especially subtle about a dodgy dad who takes the "leftover" girls out over the weekend -- and the story's got terrific drive. But the life-for-a-life structure feels like it's been forced onto the story, as if the author thought it all through before letting it all out.
And on first reading I was never completely sure who sent Angela the package in the first place. I wanted that payoff.
THE DIVINE ECONOMY OF SALVATION by Priscila Uppal (Doubleday), 408 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN