Cover Story: I'm Every Woman

Multi-faceted pastor takes root in Erin McGraw's debut novel

Sep 5, 2002 at 2:06 pm

I don't think Pastor Kate Gussey would be caught dead in a Supermom T-shirt, although the title does fit her nicely. Actually, the Methodist minister in Erin McGraw's first novel, The Baby Tree, is childless. While at times this weighs heavily on her mind, currently it's the least of her worries. The return of an ex-husband has triggered the chain of events that now fill her head.

Kate had hoped to never see her ex, Bill-o, again. Now he's building a house in her town of Elite, Ind. Until it's ready he needs a place to stay — which Kate's current husband, Have-A-Heart-Ned as she refers to him, has kindly offered.

Kate is furious. In retaliation, she offers a bed to the local unwed-mother-to-be, Mindy, who thinks it's her destiny to quit college and raise her baby alone.

Now Kate and Ned are exiled to the pull-out bed in the living room while Bill and Mindy take the guest and master bedrooms at the parsonage. They're not seeing eye to eye on anything.

They're not even trying.

Kate also has her congregation to worry about. They have enough trouble accepting their female pastor — "Some of them got so rattled on Sundays, when she wore her robe and collar, that they asked how her wife was" — and now they can't help but wonder why she's housing an ex-husband and an unwed mother-to-be.

Amidst her baby-induced depression, Kate finds herself mothering a dysfunctional found family of four. Lucky for Kate, her faith is woven of the thickest spandex, stretching, snapping and at times tearing as she fits it around her all-too-real life. She's fairly resilient herself, bouncing between saint and sinner faster than a tennis ball at the Tennis Masters Tournament.

In Kate, McGraw has crafted a real character rarely behaving like a good Methodist minister. In addition to her obvious dilemmas, there's also the ones she's not allowed to show. She's annoyed by her holier-than-Kate husband passing out Bibles to his patients at the hospital instead of letting her. He's also crusading against abortion when she in turn would — gasp — drive Mindy to the clinic in a second if the girl would let her. She's scared of the power her ex-husband still holds over her and the attraction she feels in a moment of weakness. She's angry at Mindy not only for being pregnant but also for being a self-righteous idiot about it.

Kate provides plenty of fodder for laughs and insight alike. She transcends her small-town environment, seeing beyond the parish boundaries into the bigger picture at why her marriage can work when it's not working and why she as clergy can doubt and believe in everything all at once.

Kate is a supermom, an everywoman, a superwoman, wearing all of the hats required of her with a clumsy ease and finding solutions both through and despite her faith. For this she deserves a real baby to take care of instead of grown-up ones, or at least a funny, grand title.