“Amazing Grace: Reading Kelly J. Beard’s ‘An Imperfect Rapture’ “
Absolutism is a rhetoric of political convenience, a flashcard deck of judgments with Old Testament swiftness and certainty.
Blue collar, white collar, and the billionaire class. Urban and rural. Red state versus blue state. Fact and fable. Each term generates its own litany of forgivable and unforgivable sins. These absolutes efface our desire to understand—a yearning necessary for true intellectual growth and narrative, as Malcolm Heath notes in the introduction to his translation of Aristotle’s Poetics. Read Full Review
~The Millions Review
“This is, quite simply, a beautiful book.”
“Written with the spare, sensual, and deeply evocative prose of a master, this brave and ultimately transcendent memoir is an absolute gem. What Kelly J. Beard accomplishes here is stunning: by stepping nakedly back into her youth as the daughter of Christian fundamentalists, a life-long couple whose love for one another never seemed to wane, she also steps back into violence and neglect, poverty and the shame of the poor, the striving for one’s very selfhood when few seem to be able to help or pay much attention. And Beard renders all of this, and more, with a poet’s clear-eyed search for the truth. An Imperfect Rapture is a plaintive hymn of forgiveness, and it moved to tears many times over. This is, quite simply, a beautiful book.”
~Andre Dubus III, author of Gone So Long and Dirty Love
“Some wounds leave marks.”
“My mother saw demons,” begins Kelly J. Beard’s stunning debut memoir. Though I feared the narrator would show me the cruelty and violence of her parents’ chosen faith, she does so with such a commitment to understanding the sources of her family’s suffering that I had to follow her narrative.
Religious fundamentalism and poverty, the latter made worse by the former, fracture the narrator’s family into unrecoverable pieces. Only her parents appear unscathed by the “steel belt” of their faith. They remain devoted to each other, their intimate and loving relationship a stark contrast to the isolation of their children.” Read Full Review
~BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog Review
“Demons and angels—as imagined, with real consequences…”
“Demons and angels—as imagined, with real consequences for those who imagine them—each make cameos in this memoir, fittingly paired, the heavenly and the hellish, because what keeps this memoir from being yet another trite addition to the genre of former fundamentalists musing on the empowerment experienced through exposure to the wider world of ideas (in this case, Greek tragedies discussed late night at Denny’s) is Beard’s attention to the peculiar dynamic of gratitude at the heart of the Foursquare Pentecostalism in which she was raised.” Read Full Review
~decomP Magazine Review
“…insightful, courageous book”
I am deeply shaken and moved by Kelly Beard’s conscientious, harrowing, and psychologically acute memoir of her childhood and youth. She evokes the confusing, abusive, fundamentalist world of her impoverished family with an eerie precision and clarity. An Imperfect Rapture is an insightful, courageous book.
~Edward Hirsch, author of
Gabriel: A Poem and The Living Fire
“A luminous debut.”
An Imperfect Rapture is transcendent—a story of personal grace and self-realization, one woman’s courageous path through the shadows of a fundamentalist youth. The memoir itself is a kind of prayer, a kind of promise, in which the vibrant prose shimmers, as in this passage, with “a dreamy quality, as though conjured from smoke, trailing the razor edge of reality…”
~Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, author of
Presentimiento: A Life in Dreams
“Kelly Beard’s debut memoir is not to be missed.“
“From religion to love to death to demons to angels to discovering the secret mechanisms of forgiveness, An Imperfect Rapture is, in fact, rapturously perfect. Kelly Beard’s debut memoir is not to be missed.”
~Connie May Fowler, author of
Before Women Had Wings and A Million Fragile Bones
“Beard’s writing is vast, engulfing, accomplished.”
~Janisse Ray, author of
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
“…memoir thrives on unexpected and vital imagery.”
Beard’s parents were deeply invested in each other, often at the expense of their children. When they transformed into strict fundamentalists, the family entered a “spiritual and financial vise” with lasting repercussions. Theirs was a god who functioned as enabler and source of their fatalism, one whose answers to prayers begot a hopelessness and desperation so profound it’s abject.
Once her parents’ anger and unpredictability combined with a rigid sense of God and church as the only sources of community and trust, the dissonance of violence, neglect, and poverty wasn’t discussed. From authoritarian parents to abusive siblings, the trauma in this memoir is phenomenal and harrowing. The neglect ranges from benign to malign, and Beard delivers these horrors without ceremony, dropping them into her narrative almost casually.
Beard’s prose confers beauty on even the ugliest moments. The memoir thrives on unexpected and vital imagery: her father an “intermittent pulse of images held under water,” their Doberman pinscher pawing “the seam at the back door,” and people praying in tongues “woven through like silver through silk.”
Noting “I don’t think you can compare pain any more than you can compare love. I don’t try to compare theirs with mine,” Beard doesn’t distance herself from the miraculous or the horrific. Rather, she names both experiences as real and claims her heritage in each.”
~Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Foreword Reviews
“A powerful meditation on life in a bubble and the attempts to escape it..”
A writer chronicles a youth troubled by violence, poverty, and religious extremism.
While debut author Beard was a toddler growing up in Palm Springs, California, her parents “transformed from devout but reasonable Christians into strict fundamentalists.” She was raised in the Desert Chapel church, where she grew accustomed to demonic possessions, speaking in tongues, and grand prophesies. According to the author, her father, despite an “ineffable charisma” that often charmed women, was mercurially violent, and Beard experienced both “humiliation and the pain of betrayal” in the aftermath. They were poor—one reliable characteristic of her parents was their “unerring financial ineptitude”—and as a result, she learned to manage hunger and chronic scarcity as well as the shame that came with it. The author hid her rapidly failing eyesight until a sixth grade teacher, to his astonishment, discovered how poor it was and a doctor pronounced her legally blind. Beard was mortified that her spirituality was not strong enough to improve her eyesight through faith healing. The author affectingly details a transient childhood addled by insecurity, and the consoling retreat she found in drugs, running away, and, most potently, in reveries disconnected from reality: “The combination of poverty’s opacity, Dad’s itinerant tendencies, and our family’s religious and intellectual isolation fed grandiose fantasies of fairy-tale outcomes.” Beard writes with poetical elegance, poignantly capturing the degradations heaped upon her by well-meaning parents and the escape she found in college, especially in music and creative writing, even though she lived in a “camper trailer smaller than most prison cells.” She doggedly pursues answers to unsolvable mysteries—how precisely had her mother been drawn into such religious extremism? The story itself is as remarkable as it is inspiring, and the author thoughtfully and candidly depicts her life on the fringes of society, distanced from the world by her parents’ choices.