A tale of two young men–one drawn to the life of the body, the other to the cloth–who find friendship in their shared pain and search for connection.
The story–with echoes of Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund–begins in the early days of World War II when Brother Dominic, a monastery doctor, discovers a baby abandoned in the nearby forest. Despite the threat of emotional ties and worldly contamination, the Abbot allows the child to be raised in the monastery, and the boy, Steven, soon becomes the darling of the cloister. After the war, with the countryside full of parentless children, the monks turn the monastery into an orphanage, testing the limits of their self-discipline. It’s then that pious, sheltered Steven meets his soul mate in Michael, a rebellious artist. Steven’s paternal relationship with Dominic, his sexuality and his belief in God are all tested by the irreverent Michael. Though the story attempts to track the lives of these two men, the narrative diverges quickly and refocuses on Michael. While Steven remains at the monastery, Michael travels to London to pursue a career as an artist, but heartache and drugs soon destroy his ambition. After a period of hard living, he returns to the monastery to dry out. There, Steven cares tirelessly for his friend, nursing him through withdrawal as he guides him back to his art. Wilkerson ably illuminates the tumult of Michael’s descent into addiction, but gives less attention to Steven’s quiet spiritual journey. At times, the story is unbalanced and glosses over a more complex examination of the men’s sexuality and the trespass of the modern world on monastery life. The provocative descriptions of Michael’s journey anchor the tale firmly in the temporal world, but the serene prose, charged action and sensuality of the characters compensate for the abrupt leaps in plot. Though failing to capture a sense of place–either 1960s London, or the imposed rigidity of the monastery–the author offers an intriguing glimpse into the inner lives of these two uncompromising men.
Entertaining and emotionally raw.