‘Every Tongue Shall Confess’ by ZZ Packer

Every Tongue Shall Confess by ZZ Packer, 2002

The magic trick:

Giving the reader a more complete picture of the conflict at hand than the character going through it

This is one of those stories that feel so spot on, so note-perfect, that you figure it has to be exact replicas of characters and events in the author’s life. How else could they possibly create something so wholly believable?

Of course, that’s the true elusive magic of great fiction.

But that mystery aside, we can look toward technique. And it’s interesting to note that here the protagonist, Clareese, is in the middle of a conflict the reader probably understands better than she does.

We are introduced to the situation as an interconnected collection of ongoing conflicts within Clareese, centering on her faith. At the same time, it’s clear that she is approaching the situation with more tunnel vision that that. She’s not making decisions with that calculus in mind, even as we see that her experiences are absolutely a test of her faith in God and the church.

And that’s quite a trick on Packer’s part.

The selection:

As Pastor Everett made the announcements that began the service, Clareese Mitchell stood with her choir members, knowing that once again she had to Persevere, put on the Strong Armor of God, the Breastplate of Righteousness, but she was having her monthly womanly troubles, and all she wanted to do was curse the Brothers’ Church Council of Greater Christ Emanuel Church of the Fire Baptized who’d decided that the Sisters had to wear white every Missionary Sunday, which was, of course, the day of the month when her womanly troubles were always at their absolute worst! And to think that the Brothers’ Church Council of Greater Christ Emanuel Church of the Fire Baptized had been the first place she’d looked for guidance and companionship nearly ten years ago when her aunt Alma had fallen ill. And why not? They were God-fearing, churchgoing men; men like Deacon Julian Jeffers, now sitting in the first row of pews, closest to the altar, right under the leafy top of the corn plant she’d brought in to make the sanctuary more homey. Two months ago she’d been reading the Book of Micah and posed the idea of a Book of Micah discussion group to the Deacon Jeffers, and he’d said, “Oh, Sister Clareese! We should make you a deacon!” Which of course they didn’t. Deacons, like pastors, were men–not that she was complaining. But it still rankled that Jeffers had said he’d get back to her about the Micah discussion group and he never had.

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