Brief Reviews

Cait West – Rift [Review]

RiftFinding Hope and Healing

A Review of

Rift: A Memoir of Breaking Away from Christian Patriarchy
Cait West

Hardcover: Eerdmans, 2024
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Reviewed by Ann Byle

“According to Dad, I was a rebellious, sinful, disobedient feminist—the worst insult he could imagine. I’d grown up hearing things like feminists want to be free from the family, feminists destroy families… I worried that it might be true, that I was killing my family.” 

Cait West knew, however, that her life in the Christian patriarchy subculture was instead killing her. Her slow demise was the result of her predetermined role as a woman: homeschooling with a focus on the domestic arts, stay-at-home daughter until marriage to a man of her father’s choosing, mother to lots of children, and loving every minute of the life she was born to live as a wife and mother. 

West, a debut author who now lives in West Michigan and is no longer held captive by Christian patriarchy. She describes her journey in her honest and lyrical memoir Rift. Written a number of years after fleeing patriarchy, she offers readers a clear-eyed look at the movement, as well as the damage it did to her, her siblings, and others who experienced patriarchy’s harsh legacy.

She blends her obvious storytelling ability with a unique look at the geology of the many places she lived throughout her life, where rifting ancient plates threaten to tear the continent apart, mirroring the rifting of her own life. 

As a child in Pennsylvania, West describes herself as “good at following the rules, and I was quick to judge the neighbors for their heathen behavior…. I struggled with making friends, but at home I was taught it was a good sign to be hated, to be different from the outside world.” 

The family moved to Colorado for her father to start his own business, settling in the mountains and helping form Reformation Church. “At Reformation, I felt relief, as if we were finally home. There were girls my age who looked and dressed like me in long skirts and modest sweaters. There was no Sunday school to be pulled out of. Everyone seemed joyful, as if they could already envision heaven,” West says in the book, while also describing her obsessiveness about keeping all the rules. 

As she grew older, West began to have her own dreams about the future, yet she also dreamed (literally) about killing herself. Her graduation from high school wasn’t a stepping stone to college, finding a career, or traveling. “It meant staying at home but not having homework to complete. It meant being a ‘helpmeet’ to my father as practice for being a wife one day,” she recalls.

The rift in her heart grew when her family moved to Hawaii’s island of Kauai. Her father not only  read all correspondence between Cait and Matthew– a boy back in Colorado– but he also ended her relationship with Matthew, and several others. But he couldn’t end her relationship with David, the man she loved, married, and left the patriarchy with and for. 

Cait West writes beautifully of the pain of Christian patriarchy, both in living it and leaving it. Her heart is broken as she leaves her family, yet her joy is obvious as she begins a new life with a new husband in a new state. The past is always with her, her heart torn in pieces by the legacy of a way of life that makes men the center around whom women orbit, putting women in a servant role under the guise of “biblical” guidelines. 

Cait West’s rift is all of our rifts as we break away from the old and find hope and healing in the new. This is a story we must all come to understand, as West did: “In the rifting of my life, I learned who I really am.”

Ann Byle

Ann Byle lives in West Michigan with her science teacher husband, Ray. Their young adult children are in and out regularly. Ann writes for Christianity Today and Publishers Weekly, among other publications, and is author of Chicken Scratch: Lessons on Living Creatively from a Flock of Hens.

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