THE CATHOLIC by David Plante


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Plante continues the ever-briefer segments of his Bildungsroman featuring Daniel Francoeur, protagonist of the remarkable The Family, the little less remarkable The Country and The Woods. As its predecessors promised, Daniel here is fully entering the world of narcissism-turned-frank-sexuality. Daniel's Catholic upbringing and his body-consciousness (of his own, of others') sway to give off now incense and now musk. But incident is stingy here: Daniel meets a man, Henry, with whom he immediately has an orgiastic night of sweaty sex, explicitly described. And when Henry doesn't want to see Daniel again, Daniel all but comes apart. His friends, Roberta and Charlie (who was Daniel's roommate in college, his lover one time as well), try to comfort him with their marital security, but Daniel's still-lingering problems with Charlie, his continuing mixed feelings block this (""The body, which was Charlie's body, took over my entire attention,"" he remembers. ""His body was a country with its own special gravity where I believed I would get everything I wanted. I was not sure what I wanted but the moment I got to that other country I knew that what I wanted would be both revealed and realized""). Would that the reader be so sure. The book is vaguely about apotheosis--and more about vagueness. Henry as a Christ-figure swims up into clarity late on--""Even if he had come down to save me from what we both knew was a meaningless passion, and which it should give me pleasure to see destroyed, I would not let him do it. I would turn the struggle with him into lovemaking, and I would make our lovemaking meaningful. Henry was trying to lift from me that stark image of himself. I restrained him""--but usually the book reads more like a wish-list of themes it might like eventually to torture out than ones it has realized, shown. And, more than any other Plante book, it's tediously breathy (except for the semi-porn scene of Henry and Daniel in bed): you feel as if you are chewing down on air everywhere. The wispiest book yet by a once far more marshalled writer.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1986
Publisher: Atheneum