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Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
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A Memoir

A-OccasionsSinIn this memoir, novelist Scofield turns her pen to a highly personal matter: the mystery surrounding the death of her mother at the age of 33. No one talked about what happened, certainly not her grandmother who stepped in to raise her as an orphaned teenager while hiding photo albums and family stories. Eventually, Scofield pieced together the story of her mother’s life and discovered the similarities between mother and daughter. In a world filled with the daily struggles of poverty, both turned to poetry, Catholicism, and the beauty of their own imaginations. By tracing her mother’s life, Scofield maps out the difficult road any young woman must take after losing a mother while remaining determined to reclaim a piece of her.
Norton. 256 pages. $24.95.

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[Occasions of Sin] in its groping sense of honesty and its plain-spoken, understated pain, has the attributes of a classic." Art Winslow

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Sandra Scofield has written a breakthrough book. In its rapturous Catholicism and its longing for the beloved parent, Occasions of Sin resonates with the power of Mary Gordon’s search for her father in The Shadow Man." Shelby Hearon

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Occasions of Sin withholds it most devastating sin for the final pages. …I was reminded of Dorothy Allison’s novel Bastard Out of Carolina, where the intensity of violence and the sense of a young woman’s helplessness are unforgettable." Sharan McBride

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Scofield’s new book stands well on its own as a 1940s-‘50s west Texas period piece and a deft portrait of an intriguing, fragile woman. But Occasions of Sin … is even more valuable for its revelations of the roots of Scofield’s strong fiction." Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While hardly the first remembrance of a middle-aged woman writing her way back to a youth shared with an adored but chronically sick mother, Occasions of Sin is an excellent and terribly sad story. … But oddly, except for providing a terrific title, her descriptions of these [sexual] occasions [of sin] are the least interesting parts of an otherwise compelling memoir." Susan Miron

Critical Summary

Scores of memoirs are published each year, but few renew our appreciation of the genre. Occasions of Sin, which provides the backstory to the stories told in Scofield’s novels Opal on Dry Ground and Beyond Deserving, is one such book. Most reviewers praised Scofield for her true-to-life evocation of time and place, as well as her clear-eyed appraisal of her family’s personal tragedies. Yet they disagreed on one pivotal point. Scofield’s major "occasion of sin"—a brutal gang rape in college—symbolized, to most reviewers, a devastating culmination of Scofield’s journey. But others felt that Scofield left them hanging, and would have preferred to see the continuation of her majestic emotionally exhausting narrative.

Compared by Critics

A-BastardCarolina.epsBastard Out of Carolina | Dorothy Allison (1993): More than a decade later, this National Book Award finalist is still powerful. Ruth Ann "Bone" Boatwright, illegitimate child of a teenage girl, grows up in rural South Carolina. She must struggle through poverty, her abusive stepfather, and the history of her eccentric clan.