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BLESS ME, FATHER by Amber Coverdale Sumrall


Stories of Catholic Childhood

edited by Amber Coverdale Sumrall & Patrice Vecchione

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-452-27154-1
Publisher: Plume

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.