A debut novel about a religious family that will pack a real wallop for Catholics (or ex-Catholics) of a certain age.
Taforo-Murphy takes readers back to post–World War II San Francisco and the struggling Kenny family. The story is about Ann Mary Kenny, a devout Catholic, and narrated in retrospect by her middle child, Theresa. This is a family that’s slowly being torn apart by the issue of contraception—or rather the prohibition against it, as dictated by the holy mother church. It’s an age-old bind for married women: to celebrate the connubial act (as the church—and one’s husband—encourages) but then to be terrified that it may result in yet another mouth to feed. One funny and sad chapter has a bewildered Ann Mary trying to follow along while a doctor explains in detail the “rhythm method,” the only birth-control option that the church approves. Henry, the non-Catholic father, becomes more frustrated, angry, and distant, and Ann Mary goes slowly, literally, insane as Theresa watches. The book is an unapologetic polemic, and conservative Catholics may be enraged, but Taforo-Murphy gives no quarter. There are good people in this story, such as Father Capwell, the pastor of St. Cyril’s parish, who “really was a kind man, a man with the unselfconscious sweet innocence of an angel, a rather dim angel, one settled into an only minimally reflective goodness.” But there’s the rub: this old, feckless priest is the best of the bunch. As Taforo-Murphy portrays it, the church as an institution is rule-ridden, absolute, and smugly, unshakably certain, even if it costs a woman’s sanity. Parochial school also gets its lumps here, as it’s apparently designed to instill a lively guilt. Young Theresa herself, aiming in her own twisted way to save her mother from hell, becomes a moral fanatic, a confessional junkie. The Mission Band, a tag team of visiting priests, preaches sermons that would make any Puritan look wishy-washy. Thus are people ground down with the best of intentions in this novel. An afterword reveals that young Theresa’s story was based on Taforo-Murphy’s own, so readers will know why she pulled no punches.
Taforo-Murphy is a born storyteller with a poet’s ear and eye, making every line of her hilarious, biting, and vengeful book a pleasure to read.