"Acedia's genius is to seize us precisely where our hope lies, to tear away at the heart of who we are and mock that which sustains us," Norris writes. It's the mockery that rankles most, whether we shrug at the thought of washing our hair or making our beds—basic expressions of self-respect—or, in Norris's case, writing a book. But write she does, clearing a path to clarity for the rest of us. A deeply personal narrative, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life (Riverhead), shows how the numbing repetitions of everyday life, whether in a monastary or a house in rural South Dakota, can lead to a sense of hopelessness, leaving us "immunized from feeling itself." She tells how she came to understand and finally embrace her own difficult marriage—to a self-sabotaging poet with increasingly debilitating illness—"as a form of asceticism." Sifting insights from early Christian desert fathers, from Kafka and Kierkegaard, Huxley, Baudelaire, Ionesco, Styron, and others, she considers the artistry of despair, "the fashionably negative pose of ironic detachment, of experiencing life as 'less than zero.'" And gently, with no fanfare, she preaches the practicality of love—healing, empowering, sustaining. What demon, however insidious, can compete with that?