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Faith: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 10, 2011
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It is the spring of 2002 and a perfect storm has hit Boston. Across the city's archdiocese, trusted priests have been accused of the worst possible betrayal of the souls in their care. In Faith, Jennifer Haigh explores the fallout for one devout family, the McGanns.
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.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The plot crisis occurs in 2002, when the pedophile priest scandal has rocked the Boston Archdiocese. Father Arthur Breen's family is shocked when he is accused of molesting a little boy with whom he has spent a lot of time alone. Arthur's half-sister Sheila McGann narrates the family's history as it relates to the present situation. Their background determines how each family member reacts to the allegations against Arthur.
Their mother Mary never doubts for an instant that her gentle Art, her favorite child, is innocent. Sister Sheila at first believes he's innocent. When she learns of long-held secrets she begins to doubt him, then feels ashamed of that doubt. Baby brother Mike is at first hotheaded and quick to believe Art is guilty, feeling revulsion toward his brother. Upon reflection, Mike hatches an ill-advised plan to find out for sure by approaching the mother of the boy, and ends up in hot water himself. Most puzzling of all, Father Arthur Breen refuses to defend himself while facing harsh judgment from the community, fueled by media coverage.
The McGanns are a family with a long history of non-communication. They've always harbored painful secrets, and never asked each other the important questions. As Arthur's ordeal unfolds they discover, too late, the consequences of that silence.
To those who are wondering if the book takes a religious tone, the answer is NO.Read more ›
First, there is the heady rush of good prose in an era where grammatically approximated is often an acceptable form of communication. Here's a story with characters carefully developed, a pleasing balance of action to dialogue, and wonderful plot twists. This is the sort of book I'd want in my curriculum if I were teaching a literature class to upper grades in high school or as a solid basic lit course at university. Honestly, because of its excellent crafting and the way it deals with the primary theme of "the toll of human sin," it's as powerful as The Scarlet Letter, and in fact would make an excellent comparitive treatment.
At a glance, the reader may jump to conclusions about the sins of the main character, and indeed those of many of the rest of the characters. Jennifer Haigh weaves the motives and outcomes through this piece in a masterful way. What a lot of work this must have been for her, yet what an easy read and a lovely gift for the reader!
As I am of the era, the religious upbringing, the cultural background, and even the geography of the setting in this book, I can lend authority as to how well she captures the feel of the time, the weather, the attitudes, etc. References that freshened my past for me are: the nodding of heads at the mention of the Savior's name, the ambilvalence within congregation and clergy about the switch from Latin to English in the Mass, the unsettling introduction of "The Sign of Peace," the replacement of the crucified Christ statue with the ressurrected version. This book, Faith: A Novel, is expansive in its scope while being intimate with the concept.Read more ›
The premise of the novel is great -- a priest scandal and how it tears one family apart. At its most basic, it reads like a did-he-or-didn't-he mystery, peeling off the layers of an onion to get to the truth. I also liked her writing. Easy to read and it flows well from one scene to the next. It's a quasi-stream-of-consciousness style with some interesting quirks (given that Sheila continues to narrate the scenes she's pieced together from other accounts).
The atmosphere she creates of the life of a priest is done quite well. Lots of attention to detail makes it feel very realistic.
Haigh commits two of the most basic flaws in what's considered good writing: telling instead of showing and fast-swapping points of view. Most readers may not even notice, but it slapped my across the face like a wet fish before I finished the first chapter. Some may call it "structurally ambitious"; I call it just plain bad.
Early on, I kept asking myself, "Is there an actual story here?" The narrator says on numerous occasions, "I'll get to that later." Page 25 starts with "The story begins..." Only it doesn't. More backstory. The first 45 pages are almost solid internal monologue (telling), and while the writing is decent, it's quite forgettable too. If you read the back cover of the book, you've got the gist. The novel just doesn't need it.
From there on, the writing is great. Haigh mixes Sheila's own discoveries with stories from Art and other characters seamlessly.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read this book quite a while after purchasing it so I almost started it blind- not remembering what it was about. Read morePublished 10 days ago by Pascale Poitras
book cover and pages feel odd to touch. pages appear to be a little smaller than i'm comfortable with. i should have gon for the kindle version!Published 27 days ago by susie c
I think the mood is best described as troublesome. As a Catholic, I was dismayed by the handling of the Priests feelings. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Barbara Brennan
A compelling story of what happens to a family when the oldest son, a Catholic priest is accused of sexually abusing a boy. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Bonita Morgan
After I read a Jennifer Haigh novel I want to get down on my hands and knees and thank her for the ability to capture people as they are, with effortless prose and the ability to... Read morePublished 2 months ago by DC Reader
Maybe I just envy writers and exceptional ability to bring characters to life and thus give more praise than necessary but this novel is sooo good. Read morePublished 3 months ago by HappygoLucky
Jennifer Haigh must have made a decision when she was writing Faith to keep a distance between the reader and the subject matter of this novel. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Steven R. Lindahl