Nothing, Nica Lalli. New York: Prometheus Books, 2007. paperback, 271 pps.
Nica Lalli grew up in a (secular) Jewish Italian family. In second grade, she envied a classmate who was going for First Holy Communion. She wanted a white dress too and a veil. But when she asked her parents about what the family was, she was told that the family was "nothing." The family did not practice any religion and her parents did not believe in God. This resulted in a round of tears as now Nica would not be a miniature bride of Christ for one day after all.
The book transitioned smoothly from remembrance of times past to philosophical musings of time present. There is a proselytizing high school ski trip and Girl Scouts and a dead bird. There is a marriage, a couple of kids, and a very Christian sister-in-law. There is also 9/11. Meg and Jacob (husband's very Christian sister and spouse) have several protracted fights with Nica and her spouse Greg and the end result is estrangement shortly after 9/11. "Nothing" was very powerful up until the last two chapters.
Nica went through her struggles and was able to choose atheism for herself in the end. In the last couple of chapters, she belatedly discusses her own two children. Amanda and Victor are more fortunate in growing up. And the answer to "What are we?" is a somewhat sappy "Let's find out together."
In sixth grade, I had a classmate who was an atheist from an atheist family. She was open about her non-belief but not obnoxious. We were the obnoxious ones, demanding to know of her how she thought the world began. Even at that young age, we used the First Cause argument in our own primitive manner. But classmate was a strong kid and would not yield to our reason and logic. After a few minutes, we let her be.
Our great nephews are being raised also in an atheist home. The two kids are comfortable within themselves and confident in their views of the world. Their parents are upfront about their atheism and when asked will tell the kids directly, "We don't believe in any gods. We are atheists.
That family is fortunate to live in an area where their scientific nature is understoon and celebrated.
sapphoq reviews says: "Nothing" is an interesting book. Through its snapshops, we get an impression of life in the fifties up through today in the eyes of an unbeliever. Although Lalli's style
will not appeal to everyone. Nica's story may appeal to those who are going their own"crisis of faith."