THE PRIEST FAINTED by Catherine Temma Davidson

THE PRIEST FAINTED

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Poet and first-time novelist Davidson writes with a thundering of monosyllables—the kind of sonorous, self-consciously “poetic” language favored by some contemporary poets, especially those covering the same themes as Davidson does here in an earthy, womanist tale of reconnecting with one’s peasant ancestors after years of cultural deracination in America. Full of awkward digressions on “story-telling,” Davidson intercuts her episodic narrative with relevant myths. After all, her half-Greek-American narrator spends much of the book in the homeland, where she dumbs-down Greek mythology so that it’s relevant to her contemporary snapshots of family history and robust sex. The sketches of her Greek-born grandmother serve some sort of feminist point—the woman’s independence in America was squashed by the patriarchy. The narrator romanticizes her own mother, born in Queens, as “political, brave, compassionate, clever, East Coast,” an Eleanor Roosevelt type who worked as a reporter in Manhattan. But that was after the mother’s own visit to Greece, where marriage prospects frightened her back home. In turn, of the novel concerns the narrator’s trips to Greece, first as a summer student abroad, and then, later, as a cub reporter for UPI. During that extended period, she sleeps with a number of men, including a Greek-American basketball player who abuses her. When news of Chernobyl hits Athens, she joins the panic. After visits from her parents, and an Easter spent in her family’s village, she feels ready to return home, where her ethnicity will be honored by the recipes she now knows, including that of the title (imam baldi in the original Greek), a garlicky dish of eggplant and zucchini. When the formulaic chapter headings, with their retold myths, begin to wear, Davidson retreats to folklore about mountain bandits and the evil eye. For all her talk about “stories,” this search for matriarchal roots lacks narrative drive or focus.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-5539-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998