Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. We know this works for love. Does it also work for hatred? Can someone’s hatred follow us, even into eternity?

In her recent novel, Payback, Mary Gordon poses that question. Her story centers on two women, one of whom, Agnes, has hurt the other, Heidi.  The hurt had been unintentional and accidental, but it had been deep, so deep that for both women it stayed like a poison inside their souls for the next forty years. The story traces their lives for those forty years, years in which they never see each other, don’t even know each other’s whereabouts, but remain obsessed with each other, one nursing a hurt and the other a guilt about that hurt. The story eventually culminates with Heidi seeking out Agnes to confront her for some payback. And that payback is hatred, an ugly, pure hatred, a curse, promised to last until death, ensuring that Agnes will never be free from it for the rest of her life.

Agnes doesn’t know what to do with that hatred, which dominates her world and poisons her happiness. She wonders if it will also color her eternity:  “Her last meeting with Heidi had troubled her belief in the endurance of the ties of love. Because if love went somewhere after death, where, then, was hate? She had understood, in Heidi’s case, that it was the other side of the coin of love. Even after death would Heidi’s hatred follow her, spoiling her eternity, the cracked note in the harmony, the dark spot in the radiance? Since Heidi had come back into her life, Agnes had, for the first time, been truly afraid to die. She had to make herself believe that the love of those who loved her would surround her always … keeping her from the hatred and ugliness that Heidi has shown her. She had to believe it; otherwise … the otherwise was too unbearable even to name.”

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