Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sexual Abuse and Fr. Dowling

Dear Misfits,

We met on Wednesday last to discuss The Prudence of the Flesh, a mystery novel written by the recently deceased, Ralph McInerny (February 24, 1929 – January 29, 2010). 

Professor McInerny taught at Notre Dame for fifty years and in that time, published dozens of mystery novels as well as numerous other fiction and non-fiction books.  The Prudence of the Flesh is the 27th mystery novel in what is known as  the Father Dowling Mystery series.   All told, Professor McInerny published 29 Father Dowling mystery novels, approximately one a year beginning in 1977.

In the Prudence of the Flesh, we find Catholic priest Father Dowling working behind the scenes to help clear a former seminarian classmate, Gregory Barrett,  of the charge of sexually abusing a child.  Barrett, who left the priesthood shortly after ordination,  denies the charges, but we see the evidence mounting against him. The story line in the novel is very contemporary. The novel alludes to the history of the Churches response to sexual abuse allegations and weaves that response into the events in the the story. Multiple points of view move the plot along though the writing style is somewhat detached.  That said, the Catholicism reflected in the novel is authentic and parish life is realistically described.  The Catholicity of the story line lends an authenticity that is one of the best attributes of the novel.

Although we did find the topic interesting and certainly contemporary, the somewhat convoluted story line, while adding suspense to the novel, ultimately  left the key characters in the story underdeveloped.  Further, if you haven't read the other novels in the series, you would have found Father Dowling's character to be somewhat superficial.  He is generally a background player in a story where one would have expected him to have played a greater role .  Thus, even though Father Dowling did work some of  his analytical detective skills,  McInerny  seemed to concentrate more on the homicide in the mystery than on whether or not a priest acted as a sexual predator. We concluded that The Prudence of the Flesh perhaps could have been better a better novel with more character development and if McInerny had used less clich├ęd references to the foibles of all concerned.  We believe that it is probably a fine whodunit for the fans of the series but it is not McInerny's best effort.  However, let us conclude by praying, "Grant Eternal rest unto Professor McInerny's soul, O Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him."

To the Future: 

For September, 2010:  We will  read another book by Brian Moore.  (We read his novel Catholics in August, 2006 ).  This time we will read his highly acclaimed  historical novel, Black Robe which describes the French attempts to colonize the wilderness that was early Canada. “The Jesuits who accompanied the French saw the Savages (as they called them) as souls to be saved. The natives saw the Black Robes (as they called them) as destroyers, threatening the gods and sorceries by which their lives were ordered. Out of that conflict between two cultures, two worlds, Moore has fashioned an extraordinary novel.”  Be advised, for some this may prove to be a somewhat troubling novel. Moore undertook considerable research to develop the background to the historical novel he has written.  In his preface he notes, " The Huron, Iroquois, and Algonkin were a handsome, brave, incredibly cruel people who, at that early stage, were in no way dependent on the white man and, in fact, judged him to be their physical and mental inferior.  They were warlike, they practiced ritual cannibalism and, for reasons of religion, subjected their enemies to prolonged and unbearable tortures.

For October 2010:  By popular demand, we are going to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  This has become a timeless classic and marked the beginning of horror story fiction.  It was written in the summer of 1816 by Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, a young woman traveling in Switzerland with her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom she later married.  She penned the story while vacationing with Shelly as a part of a contest to see who could write the best ghost story.  Mary won the contest and thus was born the character, Frankenstein.  Percy later edited Mary’s manuscript for Frankenstein and is commonly believed to have written the preface under her name. Frankenstein was published on January 1, 1818, and became an immediate bestseller.

For November 2010:  We have decided to read William Blatty's , latest novel, Dimiter.  (Blatty is best known as the author of The Exorcist.) This is going to be another challenging read.  One reviewer writes that a  "plot synopses cannot do justice to the tightly woven suspense of this novel, due to elemental spirituality that lies beyond the gripping plot and elevates the work to something more than a "thriller." As is typical of Blatty, his characters are eccentric, complicated, at times funny, and likeable. For the long-time Blatty fan, this novel will provide some rewarding moments of the off-beat humor within his previous work, but this book is noticeably different also.

No one else writes quite like this author. This has been evident at least since The Exorcist, and in Dimiter, we see a unique and gifted author at his most refined. His sentences are at once long, rhythmic, and beautifully descriptive. We are allowed to experience not only the artful presentation of bad things that happen to good people and the ensuing, surmounting dread, but also a good long look at an inexplicable goodness that causes evil to scream its throat raw and in vain." 

So, that should keep you busy reading through the rest of the summer and into the fall.  Please contact me at any time with book recommendations for the future.  We aren't running out of great Catholic books to read.  We just need to find more time to read them. 


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