A poignantly candid memoir artfully combined with a rigorous critique of institutional religion.



A writer reflects on the solace he sought in seminarian life from childhood trauma, and the ways in which the Roman Catholic Church failed him.

Debut author Ward grew up in a drearily chilly household—his mother was violently domineering and his father was a depressive alcoholic who eventually committed suicide. The coldness of his home was often punctured by the vicious beatings his parents delivered—the “angry outbursts and surprise attacks” cultivated an environment of cowed fear. As a result, the author was emotionally tortured and suffered a “dark and dismal” existence. He turned to the Catholic Church for “relief from loneliness and a life without purpose.” He knew he wanted to be a priest since he was 8 years old. At first, when he joined the seminary, he experienced it as his “place of serenity” and the world outside of it the mere “domain of survival.” But he was flummoxed by the lack of spiritual seriousness, the dogmatically rigid adherence to doctrine, and a corrosive environment that was a “breeding ground for sexual pathology.” In his memoir, Ward affectingly relates the grim torment he experienced in his youth as well as his “spiritual evolution” from an enthusiastic Catholic to a principled critic of the church. Ultimately, he came to the conclusion that the church’s obsession with institutional hierarchy was an impediment to its devotion to the spirit of Jesus’ teaching: “I was becoming more and more convinced that the core message of Jesus was being directly eclipsed by the needs and purposes of the organization, the bureaucratic Catholic Church.” In elegant and often stirring prose, intellectually thoughtful but always accessible, the author argues for a more personal understanding of spiritual life, shorn of inelastic doctrinal commitments and the demand for blind obedience to clerical officials. While the crux of Ward’s argument traverses very familiar ground, this is not a mere recounting of his preference for personal over institutional theology. He provides a meticulous argument that the inherent demands of any bureaucratic organization will conflict with a satisfying spiritual life. 

A poignantly candid memoir artfully combined with a rigorous critique of institutional religion.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64492-977-3

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Christian Faith Publishing, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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