The author of The Good Life (1999) returns with his second: a hard-hitting, at times sidesplitting tale of trust, temptation, and redemption.
Hudson City is a bust, a pockmark on New York’s upstate. You can’t even buy good coffee in this tired industrial town. Then Sue, a lovely Afro-Asian, is linked to a strange healing; citizens and officials insist, for reasons not entirely spiritual, that a miracle has occurred. People dream about the Miracle Girl, and, presto, kidney stones are dissolved, that sort of thing. Soon, pilgrims throng to the city, accompanied by oppressively hot winds. But the miracle plays the devil on Quinn, a lapsed Catholic employed by his diocese to sell Church properties. It’s all he can do to drive the big, blunt, “shut this [miracle] down” Bishop through crowds. (In one of the funnier scenes, the Bishop orders him to defy a police barrier.) Things worsen when Quinn, who made a pile calculating available square footage for a prior employer, is asked to work his old magic to house pilgrims. His arduous schedule coincides with three dilemmas: romantic (his girlfriend, to whom he long ago gave herpes, has grown mysteriously distant), moral (a slick-speaking “friend” proposes a shady deal with the city’s chief landowner), and spiritual (his televised fainting spell, promptly spun as religious ecstasy, leaves him confused). Scribner plants his hero knee-deep in scruples, revealing the gray side of corruption, its agonizing logic and bantering alliances. We experience up-close the weather, temper, and architecture of a city hobbled enough to justify extreme gambits; we root for a couple who cling to their fading relationship, and their fading town, with a stubbornness bordering on piety. Some touches chafe—ours is a hero who takes the measure of himself in the mirror and hasn’t had a dream he can’t remember; his meditations on physical space feel strained; Sue seems a trifle underwritten—but, overall, these are quibbles.
A riotously edifying take on civic and private responsibility in an age of elaborate morals.