Many novels aim for the soul or search for the meaning of life, but Ellen Cooney’s poetic 10th novel gets to the heart of the matter with more informal candor and wit than most.
Due to budget cuts at the medical center where she works as chaplain, the unnamed narrator of One Night Two Souls Went Walking has been relegated to the night shift. As the day-dreaming, frizzy-haired youngest of a large, sporty family, the chaplain is used to standing out and keeping oddball company. For a while, she was accompanied on her visits with patients and families by Bobo Boy, a rescue mutt turned therapy dog. But Bobo Boy has died, and now a new dog joins her on nocturnal visits both real and extraordinary.
One Night Two Souls Went Walking is a stroll and a meander, following the errant trail of the chaplain’s questions: What is a soul? What is holy? The chaplain’s meetings with people who are injured or dying reveal a host of varied answers, and the narrative slips between characters’ stories as easily as a shadow glides along a wall.
The novel reads like a diary confession, its casual writing style studded with pop culture references and exclamatory asides. As patients open up to the chaplain, she in turn opens up about her family, love life and dreams, engendering in readers the same open, gentle manner with which she ministers.
If the book has a climax, it is a mysterious trip taken by the chaplain and the dog during an influx in the emergency room. Cooney’s novel expands the concept of what’s possible, imagining hope where there is none and pointing always toward the light.