PRINCE OF PEACE by James Carroll


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The sporadically engrossing career of a Berrigan-like dissident priest--unduly belabored (512 pp.) and entangled with a clichÉd love/betrayal triangle. Carroll's narrator here is ex-English professor Frank Durkin, who emerges from a Holy Land monastery in 1984 to attend the funeral of his beloved friend/enemy Michael Maguire: most of the novel is Michael's flash-backed life story--with Durkin sliding (uneasily) back and forth between first-person testimony and routine omniscience. Mike and ""Durk"" grow up in Inwood (N.Y.C.) circa 1950; while Durk goes to NYU, Mike goes to Korea for terrible combat and POW experiences--coming home a reluctant hero. . . and a newly religious man overwhelmed by ""conscience."" So, suppressing lustful urges, Mike goes for the priesthood; but he'll always be torn between his devotion to the Church and his noble individualism. As a fledgling deacon he finds himself joining nun/teacher Carolyn in demonstrating to save a condemned school, vainly defying the Church powers (and Robert Moses); humiliated nun Carolyn leaves the convent, eventually marrying narrator Durk. Mike, however, still enthralled by priestly order and obedience (""the peace of assent""), continues to do Cardinal Spellman's bidding--administering Catholic relief programs in 1960s Vietnam. He tries to defend or pray away a series of horrifying disillusionments: Buddhist children forced to be baptized in exchange for food; the persecution of non-Catholics by the Diem regime (Mike desperately tries to convince a smooth and icy Spellman of the outrage); the coverup of US-napalm casualties, with Church assistance. And eventually Mike's conscience overshadows his faith, especially after the immolation/suicide of a Catholic Worker reporter-friend: he joins a Saigon protest-march; back in the US, despite Church reprimands, he does antiwar draft counseling, then sabotages Draft Offices-leading to arrest, trial, escape, a fugitive-underground life. . . and betrayal by Durk, who has found out about an ongoing Mike/Carolyn affair. (In the mid-1970s the excommunicated Mike marries Carolyn while guilt-ridden Durk enters--implausibly--that monastery.) As in some of his previous novels, gifted/ uneven writer Carroll often strains for effect here--with verbose musings, heavy preachiness, journalistic digressions. More seriously, the soap-opera frame of Durk's narration cheapens and dilutes the central story--while all three of the love-triangle characters remain flatly drawn. Still, the chronicle of priest/Church conflict is frequently powerful and intriguing--with disturbing (if nolonger surprising) glimpses of the Cardinal as militaristic Machiavelli.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1984
ISBN: 039592619X
Publisher: Little, Brown