WOMEN'S RITES by Beverly Byrne


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Byrne's fictional debut provides some heavy weather--crimes of revenge and passion, smoldering sex, deaths (both violent and sadly peaceful)--for the spiritual journeys of three linked in fiery friendship: a Jesuit priest, a nun, and a Jewish beauty who has visions. Framing all the turmoil are tales based on documented (and speculative) research into the cultural history of the indigenous peoples of Lanarote (an island of the Canary chain off the African coast)--tales which stress and echo the theme of spiritual female community. Maria Trapetti, 13 in 1955, declares she will be a nun. Young Fr. Joseph DiAnni, an incipient clerical rebel, is dubious. Maria's best friend in Revere, Massachusetts, is Jewish Barbie Korman, who, while Maria enters a convent, is trained for a model's career by a shrewd, large-hearted, lesbian, agency head. But Barbie will crop her rocketing career to marry a failure, a man who proves she's not queer, but who cancels his failures with suicide. And then Fr. Joseph, in the process of rescuing Barbie from kidnapping, commits one--and only one--deed that ""never happened."" The result is baby Norma. But it's what Joseph feels is the savage hypocrisy of an absolution rite he's forced to administer that really sends him over the edge and self-de-frocking. Adult Maria, too, having gobbled up heretic secular knowledge, leaves the sisterhood, missing only ""what it was supposed to be."" She will research pre-Christian Lanarote culture, on which her best-selling novel will be based; and Barbie, in the island's Holy Cave of the secret sisterhood, will find at last ""the Lady."" Eventually, both Barbie and Marie discover true earthly loves, while Fr. Joseph, knowing now that he'll always be a priest, continues his quest within an order of hermit monks. When they're not ruminating religion, the characters--vacant at the core--are a blur of motion, and the plot boils over now and then. However, there's starch and spunk in the anthropological and contemporary Catholic religious concerns, and a gutsy, punchy pace. A busy, fat, search novel, with some chewy theolog-think and plenty of lays for the laity, although perhaps too straight-arrow for whopping commercial success.

Pub Date: June 4th, 1985
Publisher: Villard/Random House