Thursday, January 26, 2012

Faith: A Novel by Jennifer Haigh

Faith: A NovelFaith: A Novel by Jennifer Haigh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Set in Boston during the 2002 priest sexual abuse scandals, Faith challenges us to look beyond the crimes to examine how human interactions change after the accusations. Sheila McGann, the novel's main character and narrator, is the half-sister of Arthur Breen, a once-popular cleric now ensnared in charges of abusing a young boy. Returning to her family, with whom she has difficult relations, Sheila attempts to support her embattled sibling, but everyone, including Art himself, seems unwilling or emotionally unable to cooperate. Ultimately, this powerful novel is about how one family responds to a devastating crisis. A provocative choice for book clubs.

My take: This is the kind of book you put down and feel viscerally moved and thinking, feeling, and mulling over the book. At first blush, it appears to be a simple story. Art, part of the Boston Diocese, has been accused of sexually molesting a child. Yet the book begins with Arthur's mother, shortly after Arthur was born. She's alone in the house, waiting for her long overdue husband. Her mother-in-law, who never accepted her, is dead and her marriage is not looking much better. She shamelessly chased the man who is her husband, found herself pregnant, quickly married by an uncle priest, and now shady characters are looking for her husband.

The story is revealed by Arthur's half sister, Sheila, told through her investigations and first person. It is not simply a quest for innocence or guilt, but a quest for understanding of the family dynamics, how each person plays a part in the saga, and the historical drive. Each character is flawed but not broken. Each character is complicated and not easily summarized. Aiden, the alleged victim plays a surprisingly small part.

It is feast for a book club. So many issues are addressed. Although not Catholic, I believe one theme that could be explored is the requirement of celibacy. Also, a discussion of severity of sins. Then the purpose of love, family dynamics, societal need to demonize the accused, and, of course, a discussion on the true victim(s) of the book.

A couple of nuggets:

"The adult who preys on children is, to the rest of us, a frightening enigma. Of their inner lives we know little, and a little knowledge is more dangerous than none. While it is true that most pedophiles were themselves victims, it turns out that the correlation is weaker in the other direction. Not all victims grow up to be predators." p. 316

"...each new love is built from the wreckage of the loves that came before... We love those who fit the peculiar voids within us, our hollow wounds. We love to fill the spaces the old loves left behind." p. 314

A deeply moving and articulate book.

And here's your chance to win a copy! Fill out form HERE. Contest ends 2/9/12


heathertlc said...

This book has really stuck with me since I read it last year. I felt like I really knew and understood all the characters.

I definitely agree that this should get 5 of 5 stars! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one for the tour.

Kate {The Parchment Girl} said...

I wish I had gotten a review copy of this when I had the chance! It sounds like a fascinating story. It's on my TBR list now!