Madeline L’Engle’s “Inventive” Two-Part Invention

SPOILER ALERT: Info below that you may not want to know – even after you’ve finished reading the book.

Madeline L’Engle’s memoir of her marriage, her family, and the difficult loss of her husband of 40 years to cancer is well-written and a witness to God’s providence and compassion in good times and bad. Her insights into small town life, prayer, God-becoming-a-man, and the peculiar rewards and trials of the artistically gifted who try to make a living using their creativity are worth the read.

I knew of L’Engle because all of our kids have read her novel, A Wrinkle in Time, as part of school. While I knew her to be farther left on the theological and political spectrums than I am, I’ve appreciated even before reading this book the fact that here was a successful, well-respected contemporary author who was unabashedly a Christian. Two-Part Invention confirmed that appreciation.

But… comes the spoiler…… it appears that L’Engle idealized her marriage and family life, gilding the lily to such an extent that her children characterized her memoirs as more fictional than her fiction. Apparently, her husband Hugh was not as faithful to their vows as Ms. L’Engle claims on several occasions in Two-Part Invention. To say that the portrait painted by Cynthia Zarin in her 2004 New Yorker article takes the bloom off the rose is an understatement.

It would seem that in this and other memoirs Ms. L’Engle succumbs to what is surely one of our most basic temptations as human beings: self-justification. Not only do we want to be seen as right and good – in our own eyes and in the eyes of others – we want our loved ones to be seen as right and good. In the long run, wouldn’t we be better off to just tell it like it is?

Still ….. it’s a book full of pathos, affection, and even wisdom. I just wonder how much better it might have been if Ms. L’Engle had shone the light into the dark places rather than trying to look into the shadows with rose-colored glasses.