A rebellious priest stumbles on a plot to kill the pope in Hamill's debut novel, reissued on its 50th anniversary.
Hamill's (The Christmas Kid, 2012, etc.) first novel concerns an American priest who, because of Vietnam and other things, has grown disenchanted with his native country and been posted to the Vatican, where he is in constant trouble with his overseers and finally realizes there's a plot to kill Pope Paul over the changes taking place in the church under him. But Hamill's real purpose here is an insane mixture of Hemingway-esque disillusion, Catholic guilt, and pulp lashings of profanity and sex trying desperately to be literary: "he had gone away into dark channels where no buoy tolled, his heart filled with wet loins and warm mud and the promise of safety, pounding with longing and desire, his arms crushing, his thighs digging, jamming to far reaches, touching walls of caves, seeking escape and safety, wanting her." You show her, Sparky. And yet, whether they're screwing or drinking, nobody here is having any fun. The book is positively sodden with Catholic torment. Worse, if there's scurf on a comb, crust on a mustard jar, phlegm in someone's chest, or a hair in a drain, Hamill fixates on it. The unspoken influence here is Norman Mailer's An American Dream, but that novel plunged right into the macho madness it explored (would Mailer do anything but that?) whereas Hamill tries to elevate barroom braggadocio to the level of moral dilemma. It is, page after page, a singularly joyless read.
Some youthful ambitions are best forgotten.