Angel and Apostle
Deborah Noyes’s Angel and Apostle, styled as a sequel to The Scarlet Letter, is a fascinating journey and an interesting effort to flesh out the life of a child attempting to live under the shadow of shame, guilt, and community exile. Set shortly after the ostracism of Hester Prynne we see the common adage that the “sins of [in this case the mother] shall be visited upon her children” is a fatalistic axiom that can be made real and that hangs heavy over the heads of Hester and Pearl her precocious and earlier-than-normal world-weary daughter.
Even as the townsfolk lay upon Pearl, the dubious title of “the child of the temptress”, and as much as the other characters of the small New England town would have it otherwise, she appears to lead a life where the consequences of her mother’s supposed social transgression are at the margins of her world. Pearl finds work within house of the sickly mother of a small blind boy, Simon, who she has befriended, and like the child of any time period, sees enthralling mystery and adventure in the countryside. This, for me, is a significant point of the book, the disallowing of the community and previous circumstances through which Pearl, first in New England and then in the “motherland,” seeks her own path and an ultimate sense of individual freedom.
Noyes does a remarkable job of weaving rich depictions of puritanical New England society as the backdrop for the affairs of a strong woman, her bold progeny and the lives of the sordid people that orbit in challenge. Angel and Apostle is a fulfilling next chapter in the darkly romantic or perhaps bittersweet tale of Ms. Prynne and Pearl. Upon finishing every good book, your heart sinks a little at the conclusion of such a wonderful tale but Noyes can rest assured that the humbling task that she assumed in writing a professed sequel to The Scarlet Letter was a riveting success. I am sure that, as I did, Nathaniel Hawthorne would find Angel and Apostle a delightful extrapolation on a master’s work built upon by another master in deliciously page-turning form.