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Morte D'Urban (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – May 31, 2000


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Frequently Bought Together

Morte D'Urban (New York Review Books Classics) + Wheat that Springeth Green (New York Review Books Classics) + The Stories of J.F. Powers (New York Review Books Classics)
Price for all three: $45.90

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (May 31, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322233
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #289,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A comic masterpiece by a criminally neglected writer, J.F. Powers's Morte D'Urban has had a checkered commercial history from the very start. The original publisher failed to reprint the novel after it won the 1963 National Book Award, and although it's had various paperback reincarnations since then, these too have tended to disappear from the shelves. Perhaps any novel about Catholic priests in the Protestant Midwest would be in for some tough sledding. Still, it's hard to think of a funnier piece of writing, or one more accurately attuned to the deadpan rhythms of American speech. Doubters need only consult Father Urban's sermons, which mix pure banality and theological hairsplitting in such exact proportions as to suggest Babbitt in a clerical collar. Yet Powers also manages a kind of last-minute legerdemain, transforming his satiric romp into a deadly serious, and deeply moving, exploration of faith.

The satire, of course, is itself worth the price of admission. Poor Father Urban, mired in a 10th-rate religious order!

It seemed to him that the Order of St. Clement labored under the curse of mediocrity, and had done so almost from the beginning. In Europe, the Clementines hadn't (it was always said) recovered from the French Revolution. It was certain that they hadn't ever really got going in the New World. Their history revealed little to brag about--one saint (the Holy Founder) and a few bishops of missionary sees, no theologians worthy of the name, no original thinkers, not even a scientist. The Clementines were unique in that they were noted for nothing at all.
The clash between this ecclesiastical overachiever and his underachieving brethren never loses its comedic charge. It also occasions plenty of politicking and ex cathedra combat, involving not only the Clementines but various diocesan heavyweights. Who will win this holy war? When Father Urban lures unbelievers to the order's Minnesota property with a world-class golf course--complete with a "shrine of Our Lady below No. 5 green"--his triumph seems assured. Yet his ability to balance between the secular and the sacred is what ultimately collapses, along with his "secret ascendancy over the life around him." In an age when fiction seems to have lost some of its power to instruct and amuse (and not necessarily in that order), Morte D'Urban is brilliant enough to make believers of us all. --James Marcus

From Library Journal

This duo constitutes the author's full career: 1962's Morte D'Urban was the author's first novel (and a National Book Award winner), 1988's Wheat his second and last book. Both of these comic novels spoof religious life and feature clerical protagonists who though none too saintly ultimately do the right thing.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

I savored every page.
C. Brown
I love this book because it shows how one can grow in God's love without being preachy or self righteous.
B. Cirelli
And yet, master of his craft though he was, his stories read effortlessly.
P. Costello

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
I discovered this book after reading the recent obituary on J.F. Powers. Now I'm recommending it to everyone. Father Urban is a priest who sounds more like a rotary member, a fund-raiser, a PR man. When the powers that be send him to the hinterlands, he bows to the inevitable. Other victories seem to turn on him at the same time. Hob-knobbing with the weathly, which at first seemed to benefit his order, turns into a nightmare in which he remembers his duty at just the last minute. This prose is so dryly humorous you must read it carefully to catch it all. You will become enchanted with Father Urban and sorry to leave him at the story's end. I wanted this story to go on and on.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
I was stunned (and then just plain angry) when I discovered (too late) that Hardwick's "introduction" was little more than a synopisis of the novel's plot. Why do publishers insist on including these dopey intros anyway? By unveiling all the susrprises contained in the novel's plot before the novel begins, the publisher ruins an otherwise fine book for a generation of readers yet to discover it. And it is a great book, though I would have enjoyed it far more had I not, thanks to Ms. Hardwick, seen every plot twist coming from a mile away.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Richard LeComte VINE VOICE on January 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
One of the best books I read in 2000. "Morte" takes apart the pre-Vatican II Catholic church and puts it back together, complete with a compelling hero. Father Urban, exiled to Garrison Keillor's prairie,takes his lumps and does the best with what he's dealt. And in two courageous acts late in the novel, he discovers, almost by accident, the meaning of Christianity and of his priesthood. It's hard to figure out quite where Powers stood on the Roman church, but he certainly creates a world where any believer can find delight and meaning. It's a great dynamic read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Richard LeComte VINE VOICE on July 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
The brilliance of this narrative is that it's hard to tell where J.F. Powers stands in his opinion of the Roman church. Our lead character, Father Urban, is a smooth operator, at once completely faithful and compellingly human. There's rich religious satire as he heads to a run-down retreat in Minnesota run by his order. He's a snob, but a lovable one. Then he has two wonderfully heroic moments,and you start to see him as a martyr. An extremely well-written novel, impossible to put down, especially if you're religious.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
This unduly neglected book won the National Book Award in 1963. It is the story of Father Urban, a Catholic Priest in the little know religious order of the Clementines. It takes place in Chicago, where Father Urban is headquarted as the "star" and best known speaker in the Order. He is also something of a fund-raiser with a wealthy, arrogant benefactor named Billy. Father Urban is transferred to a remote town in Minnesota, Duserhaus, shortly after the novel begins as a result of a disagreement with the head of the Order.
This novel operates on many levels. It shows the tenacity of Father Urban in creating a role for himself in the community surrounding Dusterhaus after what was deemed to be his exile there. It is a funny, tightly-written story and the characterization, of Father Urban's colleagues, of the Catholic hierarchy, and of the townspeople and parishoners is acute. Most important it is a story of the difficulty of serving both God and Mammon and of the need and nature for compromise in the work of the Catholic Church in a pluralistic, materialistic, and essentially secular America. There are wonderful descriptions of scenery and people. I particularly enjoyed the discussions of train travel in the Midwest which recall an America vanished not so very long ago... The book features a thoughtful introduction by Elizabeth Hardwick who describes the book as a "most valuable and lasting American novel."
This book is for you if you are interested in books about the United States, about religious experience in the United States, or in unjustly neglected American classics.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on November 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
If only each priest of the Clementine order would pay as much attention to the condition of their worshippers' bank accounts as he does to the status of their souls, then the organization's needless poverty and lowly status would vanish. That is the comic premise of "Morte D'Urban," which portrays the priests of a fictional order in the Midwest who are challenged by a man of the cloth via Madison Avenue: a priest who pays as much attention to public relations and material wealth as he does to the spiritual good of his Catholic flock.

Father Urban is the go-getter with high hopes for his order. A popular preacher--the type of priest with whom you can have a beer (or something stronger)--Urban is on the constant lookout for potential donors and is quite willing to overlook a little vice among his flock in exchange for higher congregational participation and the greater financial good of his organization. The problem, however, is that the Clementine headquarters in Chicago and its Father Provincial share one intractable quality: bureaucratic inertia. Urban's grand plans to secure his order's economic well-being, increase its visibility, and transform its old-fashioned torpor to a flashier modernity are stymied by his fellow priests' contentedness with their lowly standing.

For his efforts, Urban is soon sent packing to the Protestant backwaters of Minnesota, to a decrepit retreat house run by a penny-pinching and somewhat incompetent rector. Making the most of a bad situation, Urban applies his charm to the local Catholic population, to a new group of potential donors, and, eventually, to the refurbishment of the retreat itself, including the addition of a nine-hole golf course.
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