The Beacons of Larkin Street
Reviewed by Pamela Haines
By Judith Favor. Apocryphile Press, 2017. 269 pages. $19.95/paperback; $3.99/eBook.
When a turning point in a novel is framed by a challenge to unconditional love, you know you’ve strayed pretty far from mainstream fiction. And when a Quaker writer chooses a church called Saint Lydia’s for her setting, you know this is not traditional Quaker fare. The Beacons of Larkin Street is simply a book that defies easy categorization.
Five women in the San Francisco of the 1970s are the lay elders of an explicitly inclusive church. Putting their painful experience with a sexual predator priest behind them, they are excited to hire a strong female minister from Ohio. Their discovery that she brings a whole new set of challenges, and their struggle to respond, shapes the story of The Beacons.
We get to know these five committed women more and more deeply as the story unfolds. Their closeness, despite a wide diversity of backgrounds, has grown from their common commitment to the church, fed by the sharing circles that are part of their regular practice. The new minister’s personal ambition, as a pioneer in female ministry in the church, stands in painful contrast to their practice of discernment and mutual support.
All of them face demons from their past, some with more awareness and grace than others. They all need each other, again more or less awarely at times. They reach across differences of age, race, class, and sexual identity to find each other, and they all find their own ways to tap into the Spirit. These are women I would love to have in my community, and I can’t imagine a better group to take on the challenge of a deeply flawed but ultimately human new minister.
The honesty and pure intentions of the author shine through her five church “beacons.” Though I’ve read more professional novels, I was glad to give myself up to the heart of the story rather than focus on the occasional variations in polish. I know these women will linger in my heart and mind.