A panoramic saga of three troubled people and their search for God.
Berry’s (To Move the Mountain, 2007) novel begins explosively with an illicit romance in 1967 New Mexico between Ann Gonzales, a young woman, and Father Andrews, a parish priest. Soon, Ann is carrying Father Andrews’ child; she’s summoned by the local bishop to account for her indiscretions, and he brutally rapes her. After this harrowing prologue, the tale leapfrogs back and forth in time, describing the continuing story of Ann and the defrocked Father Andrews and the back story of Ann’s attacker, Bishop Coro. After her baby dies, Ann leaves her family in New Mexico to pursue a college education in Boulder, Colo., where she becomes a key political player in state politics; she eventually finds herself embroiled in sordid political intrigue that results in her being falsely implicated in a terrorist bombing. A disgraced Father Andrews enlists in the U.S. Marines and decamps for the war-torn jungles of Vietnam, eventually descending into a fog of alcohol-fueled dissipation. The story of Bishop Coro’s rise provides a lesson in the perversity of unbounded ambition, grotesquely cloaked in priestly garb. The plot races toward a climactic crescendo that improbably reunites the trio in Jerusalem. This complicated tale quickly shifts between times and places, from New Mexico in 1967 to Spain in 1949 to Vatican City in 1984, and so on, which may sometimes confuse readers. It’s a Russian nesting doll of layered plots that tucks torrid drama inside even more drama. Although the prose is typically sharp, the dialogue can be a bit wobbly at times: “I could give a rat’s ass about how you feel. Reach out into the jungle with your heart, and tell me what you feel.” That said, the story’s breakneck pace, lively characters and narrative surprises will likely keep readers interested.
A long, rich and theologically astute epic that dramatizes the challenges of faith.