An air of right-mindedness too good and pure to be believed hangs over--and damages--this debut novel by a Notre Dame historian. Dennis McElroy, a high-school basketball star but diabetic, is classified 4-F during World War II and is offered instead a sports scholarship to St. Andrew's, a Benedictine abbey turned college. He decides in time to take orders there as well, as a monk/priest. But social conscience and an attraction to Mary Anne Reilly, sister of a fellow monk, deflect McElroy's vows. And when former classmate Leonard ""Mach"" Schnell, a ruthless and politically ambitious lawyer, approaches McElroy--now a layman again--to run for mayor of Green Island, he accepts. The nomination is accomplished by blackmail--though McElroy doesn't know that--and it's only one of a number of dirty political facts of life that he doesn't understand as he continues to climb in public life, finally to the U.S. Senate. Throughout, McElroy's aloof and monkish self-sufficiency (poor Mary Anne) plus a fake populist image (he's really more interested in reading T. S. Eliot than in attending important committee meetings) keep him far above the nitty-gritty. And how McElroy is brought clown to earth is O'Connell's main thrust here. Fair enough--but while the novel carefully touches all the bases (sometimes falling into essay-like exposition about the American climate of the Fifties and Sixties), it remains vague and abstract and over-earnest, with a nowhere Midwest setting and laughable camouflages for real figures (""Hadley D. Robinson"" for Adlai E. Stevenson). Clearly the man we're reading about is supposed to remind us of Eugene McCarthy. But the actual effect is more of a religio-political Clark Kent--a bland hero for a well-meaning but very bland first novel.