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Higher Ground: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost [Paperback]

Carolyn S. Briggs

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Book Description

Aug. 26 2011
A riveting memoir of one woman's immersion into fundamentalist faith, and her decision twenty years later to leave it all behind. Beautifully written and powerfully told, this memoir is a fascinating look at the nature of faith, and the inspiring story of one woman's struggle to find her place in the world. Originally published as This Dark World, this book has been adapted into the screenplay Higher Ground, now a film directed by and starring Vera Farmiga. Carolyn Briggs grew up with modest means in the Iowa Heartland. Pregnant at seventeen and married to her musician boyfriend, by the age of eighteen she found herself with little hope for the future. Until an unexpected encounter with the Divine. Soon she had immersed herself into a close-knit and patriarchal New Testament church. But as Carolyn began to realize that her religion left little room for what she wanted out of life-as a mother, as a wife, as an intellectually curious woman-cracks began to appear in her all-encompassing sense of faith, and slowly she began to question the religion that had given her hope.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Aug. 26 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442214384
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442214385
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 14 x 2.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #572,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Christian fundamentalism has always been an obliging source of cultural caricature. Believers in the literal truth of the Christian Scriptures strike many a secular modern as delusional, censorious and often dangerously undemocratic souls—whether they're the querulous anti-intellectual yahoos of 'Inherit the Wind' or the home audiences who throng to the televisual gospel of 'The 700 Club.'… Carolyn Briggs's straightforward, vividly written and moving account of her adult life as a fundamentalist convert goes a long way toward dislodging such stereotypes. (Washington Post Book World)

Sincere and humble. An archetype of the female story in which there is an awakening, usually in a woman's late 30s or 40s, when she realizes she is trapped in a script that was written by someone else. (San Francisco Chronicle)

What makes This Dark World an exceptional book is that as clear-eyed as Briggs is about her experience (she was a deeply religious Christian for more than 20 years), she also fully understands the ways in which her religion benefited and enriched her. Anyone can reject true believers as mindless Bible thumpers, but Briggs never takes that route; her hard-earned sophistication about spiritual matters isn't hollow. (Salon)

So what do you do with yourself when you've dedicated your life to Jesus at 18, and then, 20 years later, find that a life dedicated to the Lord is not all it's cracked up to be? That's the question Carolyn Briggs attempts to answer in her elegant memoir, This Dark World. It is a rare portrait from the vantage point of the believer, and Briggs unflinchingly documents her faith—in its first bloom, when she finds God—and then her growing disillusionment. (Los Angeles Times)

Briggs's memoir is a riveting page-turner that rings emotionally true, as well as a brave contribution to a growing literature that tells the extraordinary stories of supposedly ordinary women. (Publishers Weekly)

About the Author

Carolyn S. Briggs is associate professor of English at Marshalltown Community College in Marshalltown, Iowa. She adapted her memoir into the screenplay Higher Ground.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thinking Creates All Kinds of Problems Sept. 11 2011
By Chris John - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was impressed with the depiction of her encounters with Jesus and the church. The author takes her former brothers and sisters lives seriously, no cheep shots against them even after she left the church. I think it is too easy these days to criticize people we don't understand. I was also impressed with her description of her childhood. The language she uses is simple yet it always seems to be on the mark and penetrating. She completely transformed her life and pulled it off, quite impressive.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last! Sept. 3 2011
By L. Fliss - Published on Amazon.com
I'll be honest, I read the previous version of this book (that is out of print) several years ago and it really resonated with me. I was reading about this movie and it sounded so darn familiar. I was thrilled to find out they are one and the same and with Vera Farmiga! Wow, triple jackpot! But this review is for the book. This intensely personal & insightful memoir has haunted me since I've read it. There are no simple questions or answers in it. If you wonder how a person gets swept up into a cult, this is how. I will stop short of proclaiming her church a cult, but it has the hallmarks. Being evangelical Christianity makes that distinction murkier. But, this is not about where you stand on faith, the crystalline writing is what draws you and holds you. You understand her story, every step of the way. I am quite certain it would not matter how you feel about religion, you will be drawn into her story.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Read June 30 2012
By Jo Chandler - Young Adult Fiction Author - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My husband and I rented Higher Ground from Net Flix. Knew nothing about the memoir. The movie was slow and rather unfocused, and yet I kept watching. I was somehow fascinated. I wanted to know more, so I downloaded the book onto my Kindle. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop.

I finished the story yesterday and can't get it out of my mind. The writer is extremely gifted. She opens up a world I knew nothing about, other than what I had seen on TV or had encountered by "born again Christians" accosting me with the question, "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?"

I found myself understanding the religious people who populated the writer's world. I was touched by the love the women shared. I was moved by their faith in God. I found myself longing for relationships that were so open and giving. I wondered how she was ever going to leave this life. But when she did, I totally understood why. I was right there in her corner. Her metamorphosis was beautifully illustrated.

I am, however, left wondering if life is actually so black and white, if it needs to be one way or the other, if God needed to get the boot entirely in order for our protagonist to embrace a life of intellectual endeavor. But isn't that exactly what a good story does, leaves one pondering and savoring and questioning what has just been read?
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A captivating memoir, but bears little resemblance to the movie. April 1 2012
By Paperback Writer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
After viewing the movie, Higher Ground, I knew I had to read this book. Because, frankly, the movie told my own story. I wanted to buy a hundred DVD copies and give them to friends afraid I believe too much, and to family fearing I no longer believe enough.

But the book bears very, very little resemblance to the movie.

That said, the book is written with great clarity, if not flair, and with gripping sincerity. The book is evenly paced and reads smoothly, carrying the reader along with a conversational tone. The characters are rendered three-dimensionally, conflicted, yet genuine.

But it lacks expressed insight. I wanted to know -- and understand -- the courageous thought and faith processes that led to such vivid life changes. For instance, how did she fall out of love with her husband? And how could it be that within a few pages she is transformed from evangelical soccer mom to MFA student in one of America's best writing programs? The reader is too often led to believe things just happened. But what happened isn't nearly so important as why they happened.

I'm very grateful for this frank discussion, and I appreciate so much the respectful presentation of being caught between two worlds. I simply wish the writer had set drama on the stage of her heart, and had whispered a few more things in my ear.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting tale Nov. 3 2011
By busymom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The author does a great job describing what it is like to belong to a small, intense and intensely focused church group. That part was fascinating. Something about her description of her own evolution from true believer to outsider was less compelling. With that in mind, I am looking forward to the movie on which the book was based.

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