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Meghan O'Gieblyn, Interior States: Essays (New York: Anchor Books, 2018), 222pp.Meghan O'Gieblyn, Interior States: Essays (New York: Anchor Books, 2018), 222pp.

It's crazy to think that a girl who was home schooled until the tenth grade in a fundamentalist family, spent her summers in Bible camps, and attended Moody Bible Institute, now writes a monthly column for the Paris Review called "Objects of Despair." But so it is. As this debut collection of fifteen essays shows, in the words of a friend who also read the book, Meghan O'Gieblyn "decided she could think for herself."

The title of the book suggests a double entendre around which the essays are organized. O'Gieblyn was born, raised, and has lived most of her life in the Midwest, a place that smug intellectuals dismiss as "flyover country." F. Scott Fitzgerald called it "the ragged edge of the universe." True, there are good reasons that places like Detroit lament the loss of its manufacturing economy that will never return to its glory days (the city declared bankruptcy in 2013), and feel that they have been left behind by the tech economy of the Silicon Valley. O'Gieblyn doesn't deny these realities — she has lived them in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Nor is she ignorant of Berkeley, Menlo Park, Coachella, and Brooklyn (many of her buddies moved to these places). Her nuanced reflections about geographic place, though, dig deeper than the stereotypes.

Then there is the interior space of O'Gieblyn's spiritual life (or perhaps the figurative place of "Christian America" that occupies many of the essays). She dropped out of Moody after two years and now describes herself as a certified non-believer. But here again she is way too attentive and creative to be dismissive. Indeed, she finds it perverse that these essays demonstrate how she has "returned obsessively to the religion I spent my early adulthood trying to escape. . . To be a former believer is to perpetually return to the scene of the crime." And that's what these essays do. One of the more refreshing aspects about her loss of faith is that she does not romanticize the alternatives, not even the techno-spirituality of Ray Kurzweil's "singularity," which she observes is partly a "secular outgrowth of Christian eschatology."

Whether visiting the $73 million Creation Museum in Kentucky, comparing MTV and Contemporary Christian Music, thinking about hell, analyzing the faith and politics of Mike Pence, wondering about free will and the legitimacy of Alcoholics Anonymous, or offering a partial rehabilitation of John Updike — these essays are marked by a sense of deeply conflicted ambivalence.

Dan Clendenin:

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