THE OUTSIDER by Howard Fast
Kirkus Star


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Rabbi David Hartman, whose clerical career rockets forth here in the small Connecticut town of Leighton Ridge from 1948 to 1977, is honest, rugged, spiritual, civic-minded, ecumenical. . . and a bore: this is the sort of Noble Clergyman novel in which characters are pegged to plasterboard-sermon situations--while Miller-Lite dialogue assures us that the hero is just one of the boys. David, a hero-chaplain back in WW II, is married to atheist Lucy, who has her doubts about moving in '48 to the ""Connecticut Wasp Wilderness."" Still, Lucy's best chum is the wife of Congregational minister Martin Carter, David's best friend. (From time to time both will brood about why they became clergymen. Most of the time they're not really sure.) So off they go--and along the way David will weather a loss of faith, along with some marital tempests. Lucy complains when Reform rabbi David plans to go to the new nation of Israel, leaving her with one child and another on the way; David counters with: ""You can't understand one damned thing that happens inside of me, not my dreams, my hopes, my agonies."" Then, when Lucy is away, David falls in love with WASP-y Sarah Comstock who announces, ""I reach out to you and find God."" But apparently Sarah has reached out a bit too far: after their final farewell she'll commit suicide. Next, in the Fifties, David has problems far beyond mere sermon-writing and pot-luck suppers: the judge in a famed Rosenberg-type case travels from Washington to Leighton Ridge to find out what to do; David does his best for McCarthy-era victims, of course. And there are always bull-headed congregation members, like the man who accuses David of being too Reform. (Up-to-the-mark in pop-psych, David assures him: ""You're very angry and I can understand your anger."") His marriage begins to crack--as Lucy increasingly hates Leighton Ridge and the Rabbi-biz; in the Sixties there's a Freedom March in the South and a Viet protest; David's book of sermons is a hit; there's a divorce; David's son is in prison as a C.O. And finally, after turning down a cushy government job from a Kissinger-type congregation member (among other heroic stances), David will marry a nice widow. A slushy Fast-freeze in which valid issues and a sprinkle of religious sermonettes sparkle only feebly--but the byline and the rabbi-as-hero will guarantee an audience.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin