MAKING BELIEVE by John Leggett


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From the author of Ross and Tom (1974) and Gulliver House (1979), a novel that tries to chronicle the ideological struggles of the 60's (and their aftermath), but that, by its very topicality, fails to leave behind its made-for-TV flavor: a liberal young priest, Father Roy Train, confronts his church (the Episcopalian) on civil rights, the antiwar movement, and then on sexual liberation (he's for a rather freewheeling holism of body/ spirit). Punctuated by certain grand scenes (when the church fathers, for example, set out to try Roy Train--by now Bishop of Iowa--for heresy), the book more often is lamentably familiar. Graduating from seminary in 1959, Train confronts urban decay and racial strife in his first parish, in Jersey City (where ""Danger lay thick in the air""). His wife, Joan, with a new law degree, is discontent with the role merely of parish wife, and the marriage begins its long process of failure (""Women have such a need to compete with us now, to keep their self-respect""). The Trains move to Iowa, where Roy begins his long political climb to the bishopric. There are war protests on the Iowa City campus; the Trains' 10-year-old son takes up drugs; Roy has an affair with his political ""manager."" Under increasing attack for his flamboyant behavior (marriage and affair have both ended), Roy marries a young drug-rehabilitated hippie; their wedding trip, at novel's end, takes them to Egypt, where Roy seeks the farmer who discovered the Gnostic gospels at Nag Hammadi presumably establishing the vital sexuality of Christ. Roy's car breaks down, though, and, lost on the desert, he is bitten by a mad dog (one of three), contracts rabies, and dies in a hospital in Luxor, but not before receiving his last communion and achieving, moments before death, his last erection (""Look at hope here,"" he said. ""How eternal she is""). Interesting for the inside politics of the liberal church, but a mix, otherwise, of symbolism and soaps, burdened by the mainly hand-me-down machinery of its ideas.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1986
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin