Each year the Conference on Christianity and Literature (CCL) awards a Book-of-the-Year Award to the author and publisher of the work that has “contributed most to the dialogue between literature and the Christian faith.” This year, the CCL’s Award Committee selected Christina Bieber Lake’s Beyond the Story: American Literary Fiction and the Limits of Materialism (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019) as their award winner. The prize was presented on January 7, 2022, during the CCL’s annual lunch at the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) annual meeting in Washington, DC. The committee members agreed that Beyond the Story was “provocative, generative, and an important intervention in a number of crucial contemporary conversations.”
Beyond the Story: American Literary Fiction and the Limits of Materialism argues that theology is crucial to understanding the power of contemporary American stories. By drawing on the theories of M. M. Bakhtin, Christian personalism, and contemporary phenomenology, Lake argues that literary fiction activates an irreducibly personal intersubjectivity between author, reader, and characters. Stories depend on a dignity-granting valuation of the particular lives of ordinary people, which is best described as an act of love that mirrors the love of the divine. Through original readings of the fiction of Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Lydia Davis, Toni Morrison, and others, Lake enters into a dialogue with postsecular theory and cognitive literary studies to reveal the limits of sociobiology’s approach to culture. The result is a book that will remind readers how storytelling continually reaffirms the transcendent value of human beings in an inherently personal cosmos.
Christina Bieber Lake is the Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English at Wheaton College. She is the author of a number of books, including Prophets of the Posthuman: American Fiction, Biotechnology, and the Ethics of Personhood (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), winner of the Aldersgate Prize and the Catholic Press Association Book Award for Faith and Science.
This story first appeared at undpressnews.nd.edu.
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