Sunday, June 26, 2011


Faith: A Novel
by Jennifer Haigh, read by Therese Plummer, Harper Audio Productions, 10 hours, 4 minutes, May 2011

...the author gets these characters pitch perfect.

Faith is billed as a story about the sexual abuse scandals in the US Catholic church, but it’s really a family drama with the abuse scandal as a key part. Set in 2002 in the Boston diocese, ground zero for the scandal in the US, this story centers on the McGann Family- a lace curtain Irish brood with a myriad of dysfunctional behaviors. Sheila, the daughter has been long estranged from most of the family but has remained close to her elder brother Art, a popular pastor in a suburban Boston church. Sheila’s younger brother Mike and her parents Ted and Mary round out the family. Sheila returns to Boston when her brother is accused of sexual abuse of a child from his parish. Sheila finds her mother in denial, her brother Mike believing his brother guilty and Father Art himself strangely reluctant to defend himself from the accusations. Sheila arrives in Boston convinced of her brother’s innocence but slowly that faith wavers.

This is a character driven novel with some mystery to it. Sheila narrates the story and presents a slow but steady stream of information that is enlightening. The descriptions and back story of each of the family members is fascinating and helps explain the behaviors of these folks. The author gets it just right. The mother Mary is a deeply repressed soul unable to cope with situations that don’t fall within her very straight-laced world view. The role of her alcoholic husband and his slow steady decline to a shell of himself is tragically told. Mike, the younger brother very different from Father Art is impulsive in all things. The most interesting character for me was Father Art. His boyhood, entry into the priesthood and parish activities are examined. I can’t help but feel that there were a number of younG boys  like Art who ended up as priests with no idea exactly how they made that life choice. Don’t want to give away too much of the plot here but let me say that the author gets these characters pitch perfect. While I don’t exactly know people who would match up to this family, I have seen parts of these personalities in a number of people I know. This story takes a look at the abuse scandal from a very different view and actually left me with some compassion for all of the victims here.

I listened to an audio reading of this book by Therese Plummer. It was a very good production and I’d recommend it.

I listened to an audio copy provided by the publisher.


Zibilee said...

This is a book that I have been reading a lot about and want to read for myself. It sounds like it really deals with some tough issues in a way that engrosses the reader. So glad to hear that you loved it!

Greg Zimmerman said...

Nice review - really good a good gist of the book. I just picked this up last week and can't wait to read it - especially since I'd call myself a "lapsed Catholic." ;)

litlove said...

This sounds very interesting. I have a friend who was violently abused by the Catholic brothers who ran his school and he is very, very bitter about it still. I'd be so intrigued to see what the author did with this story.

Kathy said...

Ziblee, I do think you'd like this one.
Greg, the Catholicism in this is very Boston, but parts of it really resonated with this Philly Catholic school girl!
Litlove - this story really doesn't take on the horror of the abuse headon, I think that novel is still to be written, but this is a good story with elements of the scandal in it.