What We’re Reading: Vestments for 150 Best MN Books
If you’ve visited the blog or our social media this week, you’ve probably seen some mutterings about a contest happening for Patrick Coleman’s 150 Best Minnesota Books list. Well, we’re continuing this theme today with a book that I personally think should be on the list. It’s a novel set in Minnesota, written by a Minnesotan writer, and published by a Minnesotan publisher. Slam. Dunk.
Vestments made its first appearance as a short story, which was featured in Milkeed Edition’s anthology, Fiction on a Stick (another great local read, by the way), which I mentioned in an earlier post. Set mostly in St. Paul, Vestments is full of familiar Minnesotan culture, landmarks, and people.
The plot follows a young priest named James Dressler who is on temporary leave, having lost his way after falling into temptations of the flesh (also known as Betty Garcia, his first love). Searching for a way back to his faith, James spends time with his complicated, dysfunctional family in St. Paul, including his explosive, larger-than-life father. Going into this novel, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a book so centered around Catholicism. But Reimringer created an utterly relatable and human character in James with his searching self-reflection and self-doubt. James is a character that reflects the everyday reader.
Beautifully and intricately written, this book pulls you into its rough arms and holds on tight. Rich with St. Paul and Catholic history and tradition, this book uses the past as a way for James to discover a new future, a new kind of faith. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an easy path. There are gritty moments of confrontation, the difficulty of reconciling flesh with faith, and messy relationships that don’t fall in line.
Reimringer’s past life as a journalist comes through in his attention to detail. One example of this, as he says in this MPR interview, is his deep research into the restaurants and other landmarks that were still around in the 1990s, when this book is set. Additionally, many of the book’s characters are based off his own family who had roots in St. Paul. Reimringer talks about his novel as “a love letter to St. Paul,” and I agree.
Minnesotans, what books do you think should be added to this list? If you’re not from Minnesota, tell us what books YOU would want to see on a similar list for your state!