In this haunting, emotionally turbulent tale from playwright and novelist Caldwell (The Uncle from Rome, 1992, etc.), an imprisoned embezzler and a traumatized nun, brother and sister, reach across a chasm of years and tragedies in order to present a united front at a moment of reckoning.
Sister Rachel receives word that her brother Phillip has been jailed as she tends to her ailing Mother Superior in the donated mansion belonging to her order, soon to be disbanded due to declining numbers. A former elementary school principal, Rachel has recovered somewhat from the fire that killed dozens of her students and their teacher, although the electroshock treatment (which Phillip paid for) that brought her out of disabling grief did so by robbing her of the victims’ names. Phillip learns a key fact of prison life when he is persuaded to feign being the lover of a younger inmate to protect the man from their cellblock’s predatory leaders. Although he is himself gay and landed in jail in the first place because he stole company money to help a co-worker with AIDS when his health insurer dumped him, Phillip stays aloof from his “partner” until a sadistic guard pushes him too far. Now a convicted murderer, he moves from medium security to death row. Rachel, hearing this news, is unwilling to leave her charge to visit him until the old woman dies. Then, finally free of her burden and with her dead students’ names miraculously restored to memory, Rachel comes to see her brother, giving him solace in the form of details from the family tragedy long ago that shaped their lives. She comes back again in disguise to witness Phillip’s execution, and the comfort they derive from being together is enough to allow each to go forward to a separate destiny.
As luminous and elegiac as it is probing and disquieting—and sublimely steeped in its Catholic milieu.