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THE GOOD PRIEST’S SON by Reynolds Price

THE GOOD PRIEST’S SON

By Reynolds Price

Pub Date: June 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-5400-7
Publisher: Scribner

Death hovers over an anxious homecoming in the venerable southern writer’s 14th novel.

Mabry Kincaid is flying back home from Europe to New York on September 11, 2001, when his plane is diverted to Nova Scotia. It will be days before the 53-year-old art conservator finds out whether his loft, just blocks from the Twin Towers, is still intact. On impulse Mabry returns to his family home in North Carolina, where his father, a retired Episcopalian priest, is in bad shape. Price (Noble Norfleet, 2002, etc.) lures the reader with a number of maybes rather than a plot. Tasker Kincaid may be at death’s door; son Mabry may be diagnosed soon with multiple sclerosis; the painting he collected in Paris for a WTC client (now presumed dead) may conceal a priceless van Gogh sketch. Only one of these matters gets resolved. Tasker at least is in good hands, tended by Audrey and her teenaged son, Marcus, black folks long linked to the Kincaids. But who will tend to Mabry, who’s experiencing temporary blindness and numbness? His wife died back in April, and he’s estranged from daughter Charlotte. That’s Mabry’s fault; he cheated on his wife so often she threw him out when Charlotte was 12. But his faults don’t keep self-pity from welling up, especially after Tasker admits that his greatest love was for Mabry’s brother, Gabriel, killed years before in a hunting accident. Very much in the Price mold, this is a tale of family ties, broken but partially restored, of confessions and reconciliations. It’s not only Mabry who couldn’t keep his pants zipped: Tasker confesses to once taking advantage of three female parishioners; young Marcus confesses to impregnating his cousin at age 15. Yet the churning emotions lack a strong narrative framework, and Mabry’s hand-wringing over his possible MS symptoms becomes tedious, as does the warmed-over angst following 9/11, including a scene close to Ground Zero.

For all its incidental charms, one of Price’s lesser novels, scattered and indecisive.