In Fernand Michaud’s theologically charged literary thriller Terra Tremuit, the lives of two seminary school friends take radically different paths.
David fixates on the status and power implicit in the priesthood, even though the unrequited love of his closest friend, Monica, might be the only thing keeping him connected to his humanity. K, on the other hand, views the priesthood as the ultimate expression of love, a devotion to God’s perfection; but when he cracks under pressure and abandons his clerical aspirations, K’s obsession with perfect love takes on dark dimensions that set all three characters on a crash course, with one path leading to destruction and the other toward salvation.
Terra Tremuit holds many welcome and intriguing surprises. The staid, almost Victorian style of David’s narration is a stark contrast to the sexually charged existential angst of K’s diary entries, which comprise the finale. More subtle is the story’s transition from David’s tender recollections of high school friendships to the depiction of K mentally deteriorating under the weight of his own manic genius. The greatest surprise is that in its final breathless act, the story—rich with themes of love, friendship, faith and power— has evolved inexorably into a tense psychological thriller.
Michaud’s writing is lyrical, and the author confidently navigates sprawling monologues and depicts characters (notably women) that feel as real as memoir, while immersing readers in a sacerdotal patriarchy as lush with detail as if it were recounted by a full-fledged priest.
Unfortunately, his muscular prose is marred by typos, missing punctuation and letters, and sentences repeated verbatim or prematurely aborted. Additionally, while there’s an exhilarating opportunity to unify Terra Tremuit’s weighty themes in the stories of each of these characters at book’s end, the novel leaps too hastily to its shocking conclusion.
The story requires copyediting and a more nuanced conclusion. Nonetheless, there’s little doubt that Terra Tremuit, in the final analysis, represents an ambitious effort from a notable talent.