BLESS ME, FATHER

STORIES OF CATHOLIC CHILDHOOD

Poignant, funny, and reflective fictional recollections of Catholic childhoods, assembled by the editors of Catholic Girls (1992). Very few of these 54 stories and poems are disappointing—an accomplishment in so large a collection. Most authors are contributors to literary magazines; some, like Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris, are better known. The stories cover many of the expected themes: the strict injunctions against sins of the flesh, the imponderable mysteries of the Church, the legacy of guilt, and the intellectual rebellion that often resulted. For example, in David Kowalczyk's ``Sinner'' an eight-year-old boy, confused by his teacher's embarrassed explanation of violations of the Sixth Commandment, confesses to a bemused priest that he has committed adultery 87 times. ``Sin'' by John Van Kirk delineates the feelings of an adolescent fearfully confessing the sin of masturbation. Able to repent but unable to reform, he sees below him ``the burning lava flow of Hell, and he could feel himself sliding toward it.'' On the other hand, Lucille Clifton's poem ``Far Memory'' recalls ``the sisters singing/at matins, their sweet music/the voice of the universe at peace.'' In Mary Ellis's wonderful story, ``Wings,'' a sensitive nine-year-old boy composes letters to his teenage brother in Vietnam; writing about his drunken father and overwhelmed mother, he implies his pain and his love while also experiencing magical dreams of joy and salvation. ``Impurity'' by Robert Clark Young takes a boy from a sadistic nun in the first grade to a sexy lay teacher whose ``dirty little secret'' is that she's a Methodist, to the sanctimonious priest who is ultimately exposed as a con man who romanced vulnerable widows and took their money. These authors are—often despite themselves—intoxicated by the elixir of their early, enveloping Catholicism. Recovering or practicing Catholics will experience a tingle of recognition; general readers should enjoy the consistent level of craftsmanship and emotional honesty.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-452-27154-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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