This is a skillful and emotionally charged first novel about a priest's abandonment of his vocation and it is the winner of Doubleday's Catholic Prize Fiction Award. Michael Mundy, at 30, five years a priest, has been able to achieve, because of his temperment, a detachment from ""the things of the world"" and he cut himself off from interest in people for their own sakes ""lest the merits of one should make another seem worthless"". For this he was considered austere, cold and standoffish. He saves a beautiful girl singer from suicide and having become responsible, in a way, for her life he becomes hopelessly involved, eventually spends one tortured, guilt-ridden night with her. He had almost reconciled himself to his own weakness and the folly of his pride when he learns that she's pregnant. He leaves the Church, marries her, and, looking for some kind of peace of mind, settles in his agnostic uncle's artist colony in the Southwest. But he is haunted by the knowledge of what he really is and when he encounters a car accident and a young girl calling for a priest he gives her absolution out of compassion and the inescapable knowledge of the nature of his life. finally though it is his need for his wife and the realization that he loves her that somehow, mystically, makes his decision clear and he returns to the Church. Miss Cooper, a descendant of James Fenimore Cooper, writes with force and knowledgeability (e.g., her description of the colony as a ""lost cost project for runaways"") but except for Catholic readers (for whom the book might be more meaningful) even the most willing suspension of disbelief would fail to credit the ambiguity of the author's conclusion. Or if accepted dramatically might well be rejected logically.