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At first I thought this was a trite story about a pedophile priest, but I stuck with it and found the book to be much more profound. I am a 57 year old lapsed Catholic, who went to Catholic school for 12 years, so I could definitely relate to a lot. The family stuff relationships added richness to this book, and I found it engrossing.
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The pedophilia scandal in the Catholic diocese of Boston in the early part of this century is certainly one that is well known by everybody who can read or who has a TV set. Jennifer Haigh uses this setting to present us with a story of a family, the McGanns, steeped in the traditions and superstitions and faith of the Boston Irish Catholics of that period. Haigh has the daughter Sheila tell the story. Fr. Art Breen, the oldest son, is accused of pedophilia by a single mom whom he has befriended. Mike, the younger brother who had been a cop for awhile, assumes his half brother is guilty. Their mother refuses to believe the accusations, and although the newspapers jump right in, the church refuses to discuss it, Art refuses to hire a lawyer, and it is Sheila who decides she must determine the truth of what really happened. It is her quest for the truth that allows us to see how different versions of "Faith" can exist on so many different levels.
This is a book that has many stories:
There's the Irish Catholic Boston pedophilia story.
There's the story of priestly vocations - what is it that draws men to this way of life? How do they live their lives of quiet loneliness? What kind of training do they get to handle those difficulties?
There's the family story: how does the mother relate to her adult children? How does the sister reconcile her feelings for the brothers? What impact does this scandal have on the other brother's marriage?
There's passion play of characters in addition to the immediate family. The accuser, the supposed victim, the various clerics and officials all contribute to the dynamics of belief, guilt, secret-keeping, forgiveness, and redemption that are the story's hallmark.
I found the device of using the sister to narrate and drive the story a bit confusing at first, but can't imagine a better way to bring all the divergent views and motivations together. Therese Plummer does a spot-on job as a narrator in giving us the Boston Catholic viewpoint and accent. This is a story written compassionately, and with great insight into the many aspects of events that happen when such an accusation is flung into the air. Jennifer Haigh gives us a caring and sensitive look at the Catholic Church and its struggles over the past decades - going back to Vatican II and working forward. She gives excellent explanations of rituals, traditions, and a way of life that will be familiar to those who have lived it, and understandable to those looking in from the outside.
What she discovers, and what she does with the information is best omitted here to avoid spoilers. It's a remarkable book that treats a very distasteful subject with objectivity, understanding, and empathy, while allowing the reader to process it from his or her own perspective. Well worth the read.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful