LEAVE OF ABSENCE by Ralph McInerny


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McInerny's most interesting characters in more than a dozen previous novels (The Noonday Devil, Connolly's Life, the Father Dowling mysteries, etc.) are well-represented here by Vera, ""out in the rain in the middle of Christendom,"" wandering through St. Peter's square with sexual infidelity and her own religious confusion on her mind. Vera's husband, a wealthy Chicago dentist, has just left her to live with her oldest friend, Andrea, an ex-nun. Andrea, before she took off with Edward, began her adult life as a shining. eyed Franciscan novice choosing the name Sister Duns Scotus. She passed through religious disillusionment to arrive at an unsteady point somewhere between faith in developmental psychology and a self-deluding belief that her life decisions have always been, at least, basically feminist. Vera, who began by caustically criticizing her girlfriend's vocation, ends by hanging around the Vatican half-praying for an epiphany about maybe being a new, ex-married kind of nun. At end, Vera will ultimately learn that to realize her spiritual longing for love, she must take back the contrite husband she no longer wants. Andrea must make a reconciliation with the friend she betrayed and live with the knowledge that her own leave of absence from moral responsibility was a sham that caused everything and created nothing. All the trendy Catholic agonies and post-conciliar ambiquities are on display here; McInerny is the thinking woman's Andrew Greeley, with a fluency in religious sociology that can easily be mistaken for profundity. At the same time, he has an honest delight in the humanity of his characters and a rather musical sense of the literary possibilities in their transactions that recalls Browning tossing away small witticisms. A cozy Catholic soap-opera with its episodes of drollery and felicitous spiritual trying.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Atheneum