THE ALL OF IT by Jeannette Haien

THE ALL OF IT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Carefully wrought and sensitive novella about an Irish priest who comes upon love late in life. While fly-fishing--without much hope of a catch--in a rain-swollen salmon stream in the country, Father Declan, 63, thinks over the events of the past few days, which, as it turns out, are to change his life. One of his rural parishioners--Kevin Dennehy, also 63--died just a few days before, and, on his deathbed, confessed that he and his ""wife"" were never married. Out of his longtime respect for the decency and goodness of this aging couple, Father Declan compromises himself by agreeing to keep their ""lie"" a secret. Keeping watch by Kevin's dead body, Father Declan finds himself pulled further into a secular passion when Edna, Kevin's ""widow,"" tells him the whole truth: that the couple were brother and sister; that they ran away from their isolated home in Donegal many years before after brutal mistreatment by their widowed, alcoholic father; that they once (while ""imprisoned"" by their father for three days without food or water, and believing they were going to die) had sex together--at ages 14 and 15; and that, finally settling on a farmstead in County Mayo, they simply let it be believed that they were man and wife. Father Declan's priestly duty requires him to ask Edna whether their sexual union continued, but Edna refuses to answer, saying to him, ""Then God damn your duty for the filthy thing it is."" From then on, Declan finds himself captivated increasingly by Edna, by her passion, beauty, honesty, and strength, and pulled away from the loneliness of the priesthood by a new and fuller desire for her. This probing love-journey is mirrored by Declan's finally catching (with One final, blind cast) a great salmon, which he then, driving at risk on rain-swept back roads, takes to Edna's house to share with her. A delicacy of symbol (fishing--but for a new kind of ""soul"") and a quiet unpretentiousness of manner that successfully keeps melodrama at bay work together to make this a small polished stone of storytelling, though without doubt in a deeply well-worked vein. Slight but loving, and often commanding in its subtlety.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1986
Publisher: Godine