Well-told if slanted journalistic account of Catholicism, by a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. Following up his collection of interviews with priests (The Last Priests in America, 1991), Unsworth offers 22 brief vignettes gleaned from his years with the Catholic press and dealing mainly with Catholic laypeople. The title is taken from James Joyce and well expresses Unsworth's conviction that the Church embraces all sorts and conditions of humanity. The format, too, is Joycean: Each chapter serves up a story of local, mainly Chicago-set, life, suggestive of Dubliners. We meet Phil, who buys a gas station and finds himself giving the Church a respectable sum each week, which he makes from a condom machine. We encounter a priest who grapples with the stigma of having benefited from psychiatric help, as well as an ex-prostitute, dying of AIDS, who's at last surrounded by love, in a Catholic hospice. We follow a blow-by-blow account of a man's (successful) petition for the annulment of his marriage by the Church courts. There are stories recording the eccentricities of popular piety and the problems arising from the issues of the lesbian and gay movements, as well as from the role of women in the Church. Unsworth is concerned with unsung heros and ordinary folk, and he writes with compassion and humor, though he doesn't always inspire a reader's confidence.'' Many will query his assumption that ``the American Catholic Church reflects the Church throughout the world,'' especially when America turns out to mean Chicago. Moreover, it's clear that Unsworth has axes to grind, and that these concern things central to Catholicism, such as the priesthood, but he nowhere clearly spells out his position, and thus gives the impression of a dated iconoclasm. Engaging, but of interest and appeal mainly to disaffected Catholics.
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