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An over-ambitious first novel--with some extremely good pieces that don't quite add up. Jack Sullivan is a 37-year-old poet and pacifist and priest who's banished to a mission in India by the diocese on account of his anti-Vietnam views. (The time is the mid-Sixties--dying days, coincidentally, of the Mass in Latin.) But after a bad car crash, Father Jack is reprieved, shipped home, to Brooklyn: Bay Ridge, Stella Maris parish. There he drinks too much, is prone to trading his collar for a brother-drunk's sport-shirt--but, also, he meets Sister Marian, 26, a teacher in the parochial school. Marian--unhappy, not helped by sessions with a torpid psychiatrist--now finds that meeting Father Jack brings her new spirit and life. This being the 1960s, however (rather than the '80s), a priest/nun romance is sheer disaster: thinking mistakenly that she's pregnant, Marian has a needless abortion--an act which drives Sullivan nearly around the bend, almost to suicide and ultimately to hapless adultery with a friend's wife. And counterpointing this doomed religious pair are: an altar boy named Peanuts with a truly transdendent disposition; and an agreeable cut-the-crap monsignor, Moose MacMurray. McDonough's Irish Bay Ridge approaches, in fidelity, that of Gilbert Sorrentino; and at times, he's a not inconsiderable writer: at a wake, ""Peanuts waited to hear something about his grandfather's batting ability, but this never came up. He washed four dozen highball glasses. The brogues of the wrinkled old men mixed with the rusty whispers of the women; everything sounded like the suck and gargle of the sink."" Unfortunately, however, McDonough tries to twist this small-scale novel in too many mannered directions: there are stabs at black comedy, at macabre politics (Jack's married lover incinerates herself in front of the U.N.), at baroque melodrama (the violent, out-of-place climax). And the last third of the book seems slapdash. Still, much of this is keen-eyed storytelling, and McDonough's a writer to watch.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking