I’ve been reading a lot of creative non-fiction lately, memoir mostly, with books on writing and personal growth laced snugly in between.
I needed a break. I wanted to spice things up and lose myself in the woven world of well-written fiction. My husband doesn’t understand my affinity for books. He reads, of course, but magazines and websites and motorcycle reviews. The idea of drifting distractedly into a delicious novel is completely foreign to him. I’ve explained my thirst for it to him before, how the characters in novels become real people, how the networks and plot lines that weave their tales literally takeover and I become part of their stories, how I then miss them when it’s over, and suffer a sort of grief after every good book I read. He just shakes his head in astonishment, his expression clearly says that he thinks I’m a bit off.
It makes me sad only insofar that I wish he could know it. There is nothing better than digging into a delicious work of fiction, ravaging each page until you close the back cover, sated and full of the images of new people who were, for a time, your family.
So this weekend, I put my feet up and cracked the cover on a new work of fiction: Faith by Jennifer Haigh. From the very first chapter, the author held me captivated. As a Catholic girl, it both troubled and fascinated me.
Faith is a powerful and compelling drama that follows the story and scandal of a once-beloved Catholic priest, Art Breen, as told by his sister Sheila McGann. Sheila weaves the tale of her Irish-American family, their beliefs, their dark secrets through the development of complex characters and their family dynamic, while at the same providing a powerful commentary on the corruption in the Catholic church. The book has all the intrigue and page-turning qualities of a suspenseful thriller, and yet engages the reader with it’s honesty and spirit.
What moved me most about this book was the intricacy with which the author layered each character, portraying each as an individual, while at the same time twisting them together through elaborate descriptions of their connectedness as a family. Her prose is both clear and enticing , while at the same rich and poetic as fitting to the depth of the story she tells.
Over and over Haigh uses the word shame. And truly this is the central theme of the story. A family’s shame, a priests shame, a sister’s shame. This is the thesis, the compunction, that propels the story forward.
If you are looking for an absorbing read, I highly recommend this. The writing is intelligent and witty. But I warn you, the story line is not for the feint of heart. Prepare to cry, to feel uneasy, surprised and to feel deep heartache for all that was lost, and all that could have been.
(Full disclosure: Harper Collins sent me a review copy of Faith)