In the tradition of Flannery O'Connor, Micah Cawber's The Unfinished Life of N. scrutinizes the quiet ambitions of normal people, their everyday fictions concerning others' and their own humanity and goodness, as it follows Nafula, the innocent but not naïve protagonist, from the backwoods of Wisconsin to AIDS-stricken regions of Africa, and, at last, through a rehabilitation program at a Mental Health home. Nafula is the granddaughter of a local-celebrity preacher whose church-without-a-church religion plays a large part in propelling her into a "missionary" existence. As does that same grandfather's sexual abuse. Soon her work in Africa confounds her self-identification as a “helper.” In the novel's final turn, Nafula must reckon with the terrible speed of mercy.Her parents do nothing to prevent the abuse to which Nafula is subjected as a child; it predisposes her to seeing herself as an object to be used. Her on-going sexual experiences result only in a growing disgust and self-loathing; she nevertheless keeps attempting to reach out for God and His goodness in her own lost way. The book exposes Nafula's grandfather's ephemeral church-without-a-church which, based upon pietistic sentimentality, is incapable of dealing with the real problems of human suffering. It holds the Incarnation at arm's length and thus offers no redemption for the flesh. As her African ordeals shatter her already fragile psyche, Nafula is helped by Benedictines, who are able to grasp the battle of good and evil which has seized her deeply wounded being. It is in seeing the image of the Heart of the God-Man that Nafula realizes that Christ has been suffering within her, and she has been suffering in Him.
The brilliant aspect of the story-telling is that amid the confusion of Nafula's life it is illustrated how mental illness and diabolic possession can mingle and overlap. On the deepest level Nafula is indeed an innocent, retaining the heart of a child in spite of losing her childhood to a depraved old man. She is ultimately a victim soul. The most powerful message of the novel is that judgment does not belong to us, but only to the Lord.