Modern Lit: Faith, by Jennifer Haigh

Faith: A NovelFather Art

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In many ways, the McGann family of South Boston is typical. Raised by a devout Irish Catholic mother, the three children are now middle aged. Art, the eldest has been a priest for nearly 40 years. Sheila’s a teacher, divorced and disillusioned not only by the church but also by life. Mike, the youngest, is raising his own kids Catholic, against the objections of his wife. None of the three is particularly close to their now elderly parents, but Sheila and Art have maintained a certain closeness. In 2002, Father Art is accused of molesting a young boy, and Sheila decides to set down on paper the story of the shock waves that reverberated through her family, rocking each of them to the foundations of their souls.

The question throughout Faith is the guilt or innocence of Father Art. Mrs. McGann has complete faith in her son, knowing in her heart that he could never have done such a thing. Sheila is also inclined to believe in his innocence, but when she talks to Art, some of his answers leave her wondering. Mike has always found Art rather sexless, and he finds the accusation credible. But he embarks on a risky quest to learn the truth, and along the way, places his own marriage in jeopardy.

Sheila, writing after the fact, is a reliable narrator with the ability to talk in shades of gray rather than black and white. As she relates the history of her childhood, her parents’ troubled marriage, and her own relationship with Art, her psychological insights are perceptive and telling. She has the acumen to meld the information she garners from different members of the family into a coherent picture. She treats the flaws of the church and its leaders with uncompromising clarity, yet gives full cognizance to the importance of faith in the lives of believers. In the end, Sheila is left to face a heartbreaking outcome, but has gained the maturity to live with its finality.

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