Annus Mirabilis: a review of Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Faith: A NovelWriting about family dynamics, the interpersonal relationships between that neurotic bunch we are fatefully bound to by blood, seems to be the forte of award winning author Jennifer Haigh. With her new novel, Faith, she once again wades into the toxic wastelands of clannish behavior. This time she adds a Roman Catholic priest, a meth-addled single mother with a young child, an alcoholic, an ex cop, mixes well then tops it off with a black sheep narrator who seems a bit unreliable at first, but who ultimately and remarkably pulls everything together.

Haigh zeros in on Boston, 2002 and the headline issue of sexual abuse in the catholic church. Outsider Sheila McGann tells us the story of her fractured Irish family: her mother, Mary, who when still nursing her first child, suddenly finds herself abandoned by a first husband, her ex-drunk father Ted who is now in the throes of dementia, her half brother Father Art Breen, who'd been pegged from birth to wear the collar, and Mike, her other brother, a former policeman, now a depressed real estate agent, angry, nostalgic and confused in the suburbs of Boston.  Once Art is accused of molesting the young son of a troubled single mom, the scandalized McGann's react very differently. Sheila is incredulous, her mother in denial, and brother Mike assumes, like most of the community, that his half brother is guilty. On the surface Art disgusts him, yet deep down his inner cop takes over, he feels the need to investigate.

Jennifer Haigh
image Marion Ettinger/William Morrow
We learn by the end of this tale that Ms. Haigh's novel is aptly named. Faith can be a very broad term and in this tragic tale I believe the author probes its every connotation. Faith is what Art has in his God and also in the unwed mother Kath, whom he loves and sincerely if naively attempts to rescue. Faith is what Sheila has in her older brother, Art, even before she learns the truth of his life. But faith is also what Mary's first husband pledged to her before he disappeared, it's what young Art invested in his uncle Fergus, and it is with faith that Catholics everywhere entrust the officers of their religion. Faith, whether good or bad, is often the very crux on which our lives are balanced.

Faith is not a sensational best seller nor a future classic, but rather it is a well paced, well written and thought provoking book by one of the most promising novelists to come along in quite a while. Jennifer Haigh is a writer, not to watch for, but to read, every time she writes something. She does not disappoint with this latest work.

4.5 Stars ~Book Jones

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (May 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060755806
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060755805




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