Engaging and often meaningful but lacking polish and balance.

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Behind Closed Doors

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.

Pub Date: Dec. 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-5035-2327-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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