Book Review: ‘A Prayer for Orion: A Son’s Addiction and a Mother’s Love’ by Katherine James

A Prayer for Orion

Book review by Anne Kennedy. Kennedy is the author of Nailed It: 365 Sarcastic Devotions for Angry or Worn-Out People (Kalos Press). She blogs at Preventing Grace on The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

What will I do when my children sin? I’ve asked myself this since my first moments of mothering, holding delicate pink baby fingers in the palm of my hand, wondering how my own sins would carve out the pathways down which their baby feet would totter. I ask myself this even now when they do sin, for they are all old enough to contrive their own vices and plot their own deceits. To be human is to fall away from God’s perfection, to perish in the pits we dig for ourselves, individually and collectively—except that God himself comes down into the pit, pulls us out one by one, and makes us whole.

In A Prayer for Orion: A Son’s Addiction and a Mother’s Love, Katherine James traces out the origins and meanings of her son’s heroin addiction and his two, mercifully, nonfatal overdoses. In painful, haunting vignettes, James interweaves her life with his, telling their story from the anguished, solitary helplessness of self-doubt—and then, ultimately, the resplendent relief of joy.

Working backwards from the devastating hour of discovering her son dying, blue and unresponsive, in a stranger’s pool house, James recalls his childhood and adolescence, wrestling with essential questions of motherhood along the way. “Of course it’s not your fault, someone says even though you suspect they think otherwise,” she writes. “Who would say it’s your fault to your face? But then you get hints. You hang back as people talk about how they would never let their kid hang out with So and So.” And yet that is her own journey, to wonder aloud where he went wrong, where she went wrong, to question whether God’s providence will pull them back into the land of the living.

Drawing on her harrowing experience, James illumines the pathology of addiction. She enfleshes the whole person who finds himself with a needle in hand, facing the reality that the drug is no longer a choice. It rules him; he cannot live without it. The numbers regarding heroin abuse are staggering. They transcend all demographics—race, gender, economic status. James transforms the senseless horror of the statistic into a single soul, the son she calls “Sweetboy.”

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Source: Christianity Today