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Estranged for years from her difficult and demanding relatives, Sheila McGann has remained close to her older brother Art, the popular, dynamic pastor of a large suburban parish. When Art finds himself at the center of the maelstrom, Sheila returns to Boston, ready to fight for him and his reputation. What she discovers is more complicated than she imagined. Her strict, lace-curtain-Irish mother is living in a state of angry denial. Sheila's younger brother Mike, to her horror, has already convicted his brother in his heart. But most disturbing of all is Art himself, who persistently dodges Sheila's questions and refuses to defend himself.
As the scandal forces long-buried secrets to surface, Faith explores the corrosive consequences of one family's history of silence—and the resilience its members ultimately find in forgiveness. Throughout, Haigh demonstrates how the truth can shatter our deepest beliefs—and restore them. A gripping, suspenseful tale of one woman's quest for the truth, Faith is a haunting meditation on loyalty and family, doubt and belief. Elegantly crafted, sharply observed, this is Jennifer Haigh's most ambitious novel to date.A Q&A with Author Jennifer Haigh
Q: What was your inspiration for writing Faith?
Haigh: When I moved to Boston from Iowa in 2002, the city was reeling from revelations that Catholic priests had molested children, and that the Archdiocese had covered up the abuse. I was reeling too: I was raised in a Catholic family, spent twelve years in parochial schools and had extremely fond memories of my interactions with Catholic clergy. It’s no exaggeration to say that nuns and priests were the heroes of my childhood. Like many people, I was horrified by what had happened in Boston--and, as later became clear, in Catholic dioceses across the country. Faith was my attempt to explain the inexplicable, to understand what I couldn’t make sense of in any other way.
Q: Exploring the interplay between parents and children and among siblings is a delicate art that is not easily mastered, even for seasoned writers. How do you, as a storyteller, work to keep your story emotionally evocative—pulling the reader in with a depth of feeling—without falling into melodrama or treacle?
Haigh: I don’t try to make the reader feel any particular way. I just try to be accurate, to show people as they are.
Q: Faith is told from the point of view of Art’s sister, Sheila. It’s a surprising choice, since she doesn’t actually witness the events in question. Why did you approach the story in this way?
Haigh: It took me a while to figure out how to tell this story. When I read account of priests who’d been accused of sexual abuse, I was struck by the difficulty of getting to the bottom of such cases. Often it comes down to one person’s word against another: only two people know for sure what happened, and sometimes the child is too traumatized to remember it clearly. As Sheila tells the story, she’s struggling to arrive at the truth, to find out whether her brother could possibly have done the things he’s accused of, to imagine what he thought and felt, to get inside his head. In a sense, it mirrors the way all novels are written. To me, writing is an exercise in empathy.
Q: Over the course of four novels, you’ve broadened your skills and honed your narrative dexterity, from the exquisite character sketches of Mrs. Kimble, to broader questions of family, religion, and society in the rich, multi-layered family drama that is Faith. What are you working on next?
Haigh: My current project is a collection of short stories set in Bakerton, the Pennsylvania coal town where my second novel, Baker Towers, took place.
Q: What inspires you as a writer—and as a reader? Who has influenced your writing and who you are as a person?
Haigh: Like all writers, I am a reader first. When my work is going well, I read. When it’s going badly, I read more. Faulkner, William Styron, James Salter, Alice Munro, William Trevor, Richard Yates, JM Coetzee: these are writers whose books remind me what’s possible, why I wanted to write novels in the first place.
I found this book to be deeply moving and I was deeply touched by it. The characters were very real and I felt like I was there. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Christine Zaniboni
I had to research the book part way through to be sure it really was a novel. I liked that the sister tells the story - she loves her brother the priest and is horrified by the... Read morePublished 24 days ago by Susan K. Weissman
One of my favorite reads for 2012, kept your deductions fluctuating until the story's conclusion. Generated great book club discussion.Published 1 month ago by Linda Gossett
This is not a pleasant subject, but Jennifer Haigh makes it interesting and palatable. The development of characters is excellent.Published 2 months ago by Carolyn B Stephens
I really enjoy Jennifer Haigh's writing, but these two books are exactly the same story with just one major difference. Read morePublished 2 months ago by WZ Kid
A different look at the priest sex scandal, and the complex relationship that shapes the characters. Human emotions and faliblities.Published 2 months ago by Terry
I just finished the book Faith. It is written by Jennifer Haigh. It takes place in Boston.
This book is about a priest being accused of molesting a young child. Read more
Very slow and disjointed to start. I almost quit reading several times. Then I could not put it down as several twists I did not expect.Published 2 months ago by Sheila M. Miller
Thought it was very well done and compelling in that the reader became aware of the perspectives of many different characters. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Francie Sinnott