Admittedly, the interpretation, “She doesn’t need religion anymore,” has been filtered through my experience, but this is the only story in the book that really depends on religious references to forward the plot*, and it doesn’t look good for Christianity. The idea that a man could spend an entire marriage physically, emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusing his wife, and then be worthy of heaven because his fear of the flames of hell caused him to seek Jesus while lying delirious in his deathbed, is sort of deplorable to me. I know plenty of Christians who believe the way to heaven is good works, and that people of any denomination will be rewarded if they live righteous lives, but I probably know more who cry and pray over perfectly wonderful human beings who don’t happen to be saved, and are therefore damned.
By this metric, the Dalai Lama is damned, but Jeffrey Dahmer is in heaven. Chew on that. Or don’t, if you find jokes about cannibalism in poor taste. Whoops, I did it again. I am also damned. I think Mark Twain summed it up best in Huck Finn when Huck says that if Tom Sawyer isn’t going to heaven, he doesn’t want to go either.
The thing about her identity is unquestionable, though. One really cool technique that Bonnie Jo uses in this story is to offer clues in the form of nomenclature. To wit, in the exposition at the beginning of the story, the main character is referred to as “the wife.” Then, as she starts to react to her situation instead of lying back and taking it, she becomes “Mrs. Betcher.” Finally, at the very end of the story, when she ignores the preacher to work on the fascinating theater curtain (a project her husband would have never allowed her to take for pecuniary reasons) she is “Mary” at last. This may be why Bonnie Jo has been a finalist for the National Book Award, and I have not. But I guess the fact that I can point this out is why I’m drawing these comics, and everyone else is not. I bet I could write a 2000 word essay just on the use of this naming convention in “A Multitude of Sins,” but I guess I’ll leave that to people who write more conventional and less personal literary criticism.
*In some ways the Corinthians quote in “Somewhere Warm” could be the flip side to the terrifying Revelation visions in “A Multitude of Sins,” but religion plays a very different and less prominent role in that story, whereas this one even takes its title from the New Testament.