Saturday, October 9, 2010


James "Jim" Dressler is a kind, gentle 20-something young man who shoots hoops and plays poker with his buddies, likes to hang out in bars and have a few drinks, and has a weakness for women, which often makes him unable to quell his sensual urges. He is also a Roman Catholic Priest. Therein lies the moral conflict imbued in VESTMENTS, a beautifully-rendered debut novel from John Reimringer.

Modern-day Catholics and the contemporary Catholic family are Reimringer's focus, and he knows the landscape very well. There is Jim, the priest, who was drawn to the church--namely the rituals and ceremonies--as a young boy. It seems that Jim took his vows less for the spiritual implications and more as a place of refuge from a dysfunctional family.  However, this choice has actually isolated and alienated Jim from his kin. Jim has an alcoholic father, who is not keen about (nor proud of) his son's choice of career.  His mother is a church-going Catholic who prefers to adhere to her own rules rather than those of the church. Jim's brother's and sister's only claim to being Catholic is their reference to Jim as "our brother, the priest." Jim's ailing grandfather tenaciously clings to his faith to escape the lingering emotional wounds of war and his fear of impending death.  He seems to be the family member who shows the most reverence for God and displays a sincere depth of spirituality.

Jim returns to his hometown after being forced to take a sabbatical from the priesthood - he has broken his vows of celibacy with several women. Once home, he tries to deal with his family and grapple with the implications of what he has done. If that weren't enough, Reimringer ups the ante by having Jim cross paths with an old flame, a woman who was his first true love. Through a parallel structure, Reimringer peels back Jim's layers by interspersing powerful scenes from the past with the present action. This romantic subplot, told in real time and flashback, forces Jim to reconcile his feelings for the priesthood and helps him decide if he can stay committed to the celibate life, once and for all.

Reimringer casts Jim as a liberal ("abortion is not all wrong") and very self-forgiving Catholic. His modernity is real, and it makes him all the more accessible to the reader.  However, what was Jim's ultimate goal for his life by serving in the priesthood? And beyond the physicality of the Catholic Church and its rituals, did Jim ever cultivate an intimate, personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ? Questions like these kept me riveted to this novel and made me eager to make an emotional investment in this provocative story until the very last page.