In 1970s New York, a young priest agonizes over his surrender to temptations of the flesh.
Monda (Do You Believe? 2007, etc.) is an Italian writer who lives in New York City. A few references—building the World Trade Center towers, Mayor Abraham Beame, Studio 54, the Foreman-Ali fight in Zaire—give a glancing idea of the city and the time when this book is set. The story concerns a brief period in the life of the narrator, a recently ordained Catholic priest who has embarked, never mind the vow of chastity, on an affair. He also deals with parish business, hears confession, and delivers homilies. A subplot involving an anonymous accusatory letter tries to add suspense, as does the priest’s discovering a lump on his lover’s breast. The slim novel often toggles between his trysts and the post-coital tristesse of his solitary inquisitions into why unshaken faith coexists with unslakable appetites. Monda’s treatment of a morally and theologically complex area, however sincerely expressed by his priest, is somewhat scattershot and fraught with overworked pathos. The cleric’s guilt-ridden internal keening becomes a sort of liturgy he repeatedly performs in the sanctuary of his tormented mind, a dark Mass of the soul served with a lot of whine. It is possible, though, to admire the economy of conscience with which he melds the sins of lying, lust, and larceny when he says he is going out to see his mother before going off to buy his lover something with money stolen from the collection plate.
An interesting but finally disappointing look at a priest grappling with women and guilt.