Faith by Jennifer Haigh is a novel that reads like a fictional memoir. Father Art, a respected and lauded Catholic parish priest in Boston was accused amid the pedophilia scandal in 2002. Sheila, Father Art's step-sister, is an all-knowing narrator who tells the story much like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby - by standing on the periphery of the larger story. From the outset, she spells out her intent to shed light on the facts that implicated her step-brother in the alleged abuse of an 8 year-old boy. This leads to a novel well-structured in three parts and told largely in flashbacks. Part one details how and why Art became a priest. Part two delves into the ramifications of Art's life in the priesthood and what led to the scandal. And part three unravels the story, exposing how the scandal that plagued Art rocked his life and the lives of every member of a rather old-school, Irish-Catholic family.
Jennifer Haigh embroils her characters in a moral dilemma and renders them with great sensitivity and compassion. For every flaw revealed, Haigh presents a plausible justification that ultimately exposes redeeming qualities - in everyone. Haigh's writing--the straight prose and the pivotal scenes--is beautifully nuanced, and she made me care and feel for these people . . . Art, a truly faith-filled, yet isolated, man, who gave 25 years of his life to his church only to have that church betray him; Sheila, unwavering in her belief in her step-brother's innocence, but not without regret and sorrow; Mike, who convicts his step-brother from the get-go but who goes to great lengths to ultimately form his own conclusion; and the now elderly matriarch and patriarch of the family, who are steeped in denial - perhaps with good reason.
These characterizations, coupled with a plot that is hinged on discoveries and epiphanies that culminate toward the end of the narrative, ultimately deliver a suspenseful book that is fascinating in both its presentation and portrayal.
Faith by Jennifer Haigh
Harper, Hardcover, 9780060755805, 336pp.
Publication Date: May 2011
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In order to write this review, I received a copy of this book via TLC Book Tours in conjuction with HarperCollins Publishers.