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Faith: A Novel Paperback – January 17, 2012
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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.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Haigh (Mrs. Kimble) explores the intersections of public scandal and personal tragedy in her superb fourth novel. Set in 2002 amid the sexual abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church, and particularly the Boston archdiocese, Haigh's novel reaches far beneath the headlines to imagine the impact of allegations on one priest's family. Arthur Breen became a priest when such a career path was considered a logical, honorable choice for an intelligent young Catholic man. Sophisticated and worldly in many ways, utterly childlike in others, Arthur is unprepared to cope with secular life when he's accused of abusing a young boy and is subsequently asked to leave his parish. Arthur's younger half-sister, Sheila, in a quasi-omniscient style, narrates the complicated, devastating history that shaped Arthur's life, both personally and spiritually. Although this all-too-plausible story offers a damning commentary on the Church's flaws and its leaders' hubris, Haigh is concerned less with religious faith than with the faith Arthur's family has—and loses, and in some cases regains—in one another. At its broadest, this is a frank and timely story of familial and institutional heredity; at its most personal, the novel is a devastating portrait of a priest who discovers that he's also a man. (May)
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When Father Art Breen is accused of molesting a young boy he is devastated; even more so when he learns who it is. His family is torn - his mother refuses to believe anything bad about her son, his brother Mike, with young boys himself, is wondering if he's guilty and refuses to have anything to do with him, and finally his sister Sheila who believes him innocent but still wants the truth of what really happened. The family is definitely feeling the negative effects of the scandal and Sheila and Mike, normally very close, are at opposite ends with Sheila believing they should be there for their brother. The bulk of the novel is built from here with Sheila digging for the truth - going through her brothers things, remembering chats with him, and talking to people who knew Art. She needs to understand how and why anyone could accuse her brother of such a thing.
Art is at a loss as to what to do with himself. The priesthood has been his life. From a young boy it's all he's ever wanted. Now he's been removed from it and shuttled off to an apartment paid for by the church. Art has been sheltered by the church his whole life and suddenly being thrown out into the world is very hard for a man like him. The worst is when the posters start going up with his face on them and even more so when he learns his own brother doesn't believe in his innocence. He goes back in his memories, reliving things, and this was by far my favorite parts of the book.
We learn that this family had many secrets that, in one way or another, form how they react to situations as adults. Art especially has been harboring some dark secrets in his past that make him question himself in relation to his actions with this young boy. I liked how the author made us sympathetic to Father Breen and also shows us how priests are human beings. For Art Breen this was especially difficult as he didn't know how to separate the priesthood from being a man. He often wondered about what he'd missed out on or if he was capable of love at all. Ultimately it is exactly this that puts Art Breen in the direct line of fire when all these accounts of molestation start flying around.
For the most part I didn't connect with any of the characters although I did grow to care about Father Breen. Yes, you wonder whether he's guilty or not but as you learn about him and his life - the things he yearned for - you want to believe in his innocence. For some reason though, while I did enjoy this story, something was missing for me. Maybe it's because I really became invested in the story halfway through or at times I found the way the story was told a bit confusing. Don't get me wrong - I think this novel is beautifully written and so very powerful in it's telling. For me, I think it's mainly that disconnect with the characters even though the story itself is one that grips you, as it did me, especially in the later half.
Faith by Jennifer Haigh does just that - it explores the faith you have in your religion, your family, and ultimately yourself. It's a novel that touches on family, marriage, secrets, lies, and it just begs to be discussed. I think it would make a good novel for a book club because, let's face it, the topic of the Catholic church and the issues with the priests, is discussion enough. Yet this novel is so much more because it looks at the emotional side of it - the damage that such an accusation can result in. It changes lives forever. I've read all of Jennifer Haigh's books and while this may not have been my favorite of all of them, I still think it's a book well worth reading.
You have some very different women that play major parts in this novel, and yet, they are never.....expanded on? They always seem to be in the background...influencing the story, but never *becoming* the story. You have the Mother to the main characters. The sister. Mike's wife. The mother of the little boy. Even the obese best friend. Honestly, this story could have been told from any one of these ladies viewpoints and been just as good IF NOT EVEN BETTER than it was.
I won't go into plot here....but I will say that sometimes the worst things you can think about are only the very edge of the over all picture. What drives you? What past sins do you carry with you throughout your life? Which ones do you let shape you into the person that you later become? Were they your sins or another's? More so, what transgressions keep you up at night and haunt your waking hours as well? What negatives do you measure your current worth against? How far are you willing to carry your own secrets? How much do the weight of these secrets effect you?
Art was such a complex character. People took his silence for just that...silence....never understanding the riptides that tore at his inner being....
The one complaint I had about this book is that at times it didn't seem to flow like it should. I got confused about who's voice was current at the time between the sister and the younger brother. Other than that, this was a really good book. I really enjoyed it. For me there were many unanswered questions....why was the sister like she was? What happened to the first husband? As in real life, sometimes the questions we want answered the most never are.
Highly recommend....this book stays with you into the night....long after you turn that last page....
The setting is in the Boston area where one of the worst abuse cases came to light.....I know that being Catholic makes it more difficult to read about.
The public gets the cut and dried media version but this book, although a work of fiction, makes one realize that each and every case would be worthy of a full length accounting.
I highly recommend this story, it will make you think about the abuses, the perpetrators and the victims.
I think everyone would agree that the church was in the wrong by trying to cover up so much. In reality, the Voice of the Faithful have succeeded in getting more transparency and the candidates for priesthood are vetted severely, and young boys are not brought in any longer.
The main character, Fr. Art, was destined for the priesthood from a very young age for a variety of reasons and at different times in his life, he experiences doubt in himself and what he
does, sometimes called "The dark night of the soul." This is
a. story that needed to be told and Ms. Haigh did it well.