four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
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0

A-FaithNovelist Jennifer Haigh is the author of three previous best sellers, including PEN/Faulkner Award-winner Mrs. Kimble (2003). Her short stories have appeared in the Atlantic, Good Housekeeping, Granta, Ploughshares, and the Saturday Evening Post.

The Story: "Most of you have heard, by now, what happened to my brother," begins Sheila McGann, a high school English teacher who has long been estranged from her working-class Boston family and their dogged devotion to Catholicism. Breaking her pledge to her older half-brother, Father Arthur Breen, to remain silent, Sheila relates the circumstances surrounding the "single vile accusation, still unproven, that made a ruin of his life": In 2002, Father Art was accused of molesting his housekeeper's grandson, eight-year-old Aidan Conlon. As Sheila assembles the facts of the case in an attempt to uncover the truth, she pieces together the wider picture of her troubled family and its devastating secrets.
Harper. 336 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780060755806

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It is relatively easy to tell a story in black and white. The art lies in writing nuanced shades of gray. Faith is painted with a palette of many tones, its outlines of its character sharp and sharply human." Robin Vidimos

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Besides her ability to examine characters with exact precision, Ms. Haigh is also a master of plot. ... Painful and poignant, this is a human tale translated into a suspenseful read." Sharon Dilworth

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"Sheila as narrator is convincing. Haigh smartly employs her to reveal Father Art as a real person: the little boy of a single mother, the beloved son, the much older half-brother, the young priest, and later the grown man struggling through midlife." Marisela Chavez

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Given the hair-raising revelations of the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal, why would anybody want to read a seeming apologia for the priesthood? But Ms. Haigh--through sleight of hand, a compelling array of characters and top-flight writing--is remarkably successful in making us want to read on. Faith is so emotionally rich, and its story so deftly delivered, that we're absorbed even as the novel leaves lingering doubts whether Ms. Haigh has truly confronted the blight of clerical abuse." Sam Sacks

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Haigh brings a refreshing degree of humanity to a story you think you know well, and in chapters both riveting and profound, she catches the avalanche of guilt this tragedy unleashes in one devout family. ... Every time the story threatens to sink too ponderously into its philosophical concerns, the plot takes some new, startling turn, and every time that quick pace threatens to blur the novel's deeper themes, Haigh suspends the action and forces us to consider the murky dimensions of faith and sin." Ron Charles

Seattle Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"[Sheila] commits a cardinal sin: telling us everything, showing us nothing. ... For all the high drama this powerful premise calls for, Haigh is disappointingly bland and off-key in her approach. None of her characters comes believably to life." Valerie Ryan

Critical Summary

What could another fictionalization of the sex-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church possibly add to it? Faith provides its own answer. With cannily crafted characters and dazzling prose, Haigh sheds new light on events of the scandal and their aftermath, endowing both accuser and accused with a distinctly human face. Sheila is an ideal narrator--compassionate, perceptive, and candid about her own preconceptions. Her wavering belief in her brother's innocence propels Haigh's surprisingly suspenseful plot, striking just the right balance between action and reflection. (With all due respect to the Seattle Times, one wonders if Ms. Ryan was reading the same book.) "A subtle writer who illuminates the nuances of human nature with sheer authority" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Haigh has penned an extraordinarily heartfelt, moving, and intelligent novel.

Also by the Author

Baker Towers (2005): Against the backdrop of two 40-feet-high piles of mine waste--Bakerton, Pennsylvania's most famous landmark--a Polish-Italian family navigates through life. When union coal miner Stanley Novak dies in 1944, his family--now headed by his Italian wife, Rose--slowly deals with personal and economic change. Over the next 30 years, as the postwar industrial boom fades, her five children take different paths. ( 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2005)