A novel about the travails of the 20th-century Catholic Church, as told through stories of California priests.
Quinn explores the lives of a group of men from the days of their youth, through seminary, and on into their respective careers as clergymen. With an epic feel reminiscent of (and strangely contrasted to) Willa Cather’s 1927 novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, the author leads readers through decades of change and upheaval for Roman Catholicism, the United States, and the world. As his characters go about their seminary studies during World War II, they already exhibit signs of living apart from a very busy, troubled world, and their lives are marked by attempts to catch up to cycles of change brought about by everything from the Second Vatican Council to the sexual revolution. Some scenes of international intrigue globalize and complicate an already broad storyline, but most of the drama in this work takes place in the local and vocational lives of the priests themselves. Sexual tension is a major theme, culminating in a false charge of rape against one priest, Tyler Stone, by his 17-year-old female student. Another priest, David Carmichael, who goes on to become a bishop, personifies the difficulties that many Catholics have with accepting church teachings without question, especially on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. In another case, wealthy family connections and an adherence to orthodoxy help launch Gordon Caprice, a talented young priest, toward a career in Rome, while his sister, Willow, engages in Cold War intrigue as a foreign-service agent. Much of Quinn’s work is engaging and imaginative, and he certainly gives his readers plenty to think about. At times, though, the work is bogged down in lengthy, didactic dialogue which will slowly lose readers’ interest. An interminable courtroom scene, in which the psychosexuality of priests is discussed at great length, is one such example. Quinn’s novel, which begins in Catholic neighborhoods of the 1930s and ends with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, covers a lot of ground. However, it doesn’t allow readers enough chances to catch their breath along the way.
Engaging and often meaningful but lacking polish and balance.