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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
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.
And the satire is all on him. At least, to my mind, it was. Can't be sure I read as intended. Nope, not a-tall.Published 1 month ago by A. Lucchese
Beautifully written story. If you like Richard Russo, Pat Conroy, you will enjoy this book.Published 9 months ago by REF
Particularly appealing to those who knew the Catholic Church before Vatican II. Wonderful insight into the nuances of clerical living.Published 15 months ago by G. M. Seely
A cursory account of the aimlessness and ennui of some lives.
No aspect of the story has any of the edges of reality, no psychological or physical texture.
JJ Partridge .Always admired the authjor's wit and vitality of style. Why wasn't this a movie? his new bio doesn't tell us.Published 18 months ago by John Partridge
JF Powers' MORTE D'URBAN, the winner of the National Book Award for 1963, has featured among the favorite books of several other writers and one can see why. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Roger Brunyate
I read it and enjoyed it when it came out in the '60's and liked it even better this time around. At times I was laughing out loud.Published 20 months ago by Patricia J. Busalacchi
I read this in paperback about twenty years ago, and found it funny and moving. Then I forgot (!) who the author and what the title was, and had no idea how to "find" it. Read morePublished 21 months ago by belqis