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Wheat that Springeth Green (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – May 31, 2000
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During his famous journey through America in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville was struck by the peculiar worldliness of religious practice. Unlike their European counterparts, who specialized in visions of heaven, "American preachers are constantly referring to the earth, and it is only with great difficulty that they can divert their attention from it." More than a century later, J.F. Powers built an entire career on this national tendency. And nowhere did he capture the sacred-and-profane balancing act with more amusement than in his 1975 novel, Wheat That Springeth Green. His protagonist, a Great Depression-era child of the Midwest named Joe Hackett, has early dreams of joining the priesthood:
If he decided to be a priest in a religious order, though, he could live out in the country, at a college, and have invigorating walks and talks with students ... and maybe some exciting adventures, and also do good, as often happened in the Father Finn books ("'My God!' cried the atheist") that Sister Agatha read to the class at the end of the day.Joe eventually attends seminary, is ordained, and finds himself appointed as assistant to a high-octane contemplative, Father Van Slaag. But by the time he gets his own parish, in 1968, he's become an expert at relegating sanctity to the back burner. Overweight, agreeably resigned, Joe accepts the fact that "running a parish, any parish, was like riding a cattle car in the wintertime--you could appreciate the warmth of your dear, dumb friends, but you never knew when you'd be stepped on, or worse."
It takes the arrival of a young, over-earnest curate to jog his idealism back to life. And in return, he imparts to the younger man his knowledge of the "worldly" priesthood--a craft that Powers, no less than de Tocqueville, refuses to condemn. This exchange, which is gradual and grudging on both sides, occupies the greater portion of Wheat That Springeth Green. And the protagonist's regeneration, like that alluded to in the title, seems no less miraculous for being expected. The result is a marvelous, acute novel, which gives to Joe's spiritual rebirth the shape of a classic American comedy--trials and tribulations, and finally, a happy ending. --James Marcus
From Publishers Weekly
Set in the late 1960s, this superb novel tells of the awakening of middle-aged, Midwestern priest Joe Hackett. With brilliant use of the telling detail and an unerring ear for dialogue, "Powers succeeds in conveying the nuts and bolts of a clergyman's life even as he illuminates the hidden corners of his soul," lauded PW.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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A favorite line, indicationg Joe's final loss of innocence - "... believing as he did that the separation of of Church and Dreck was a matter of life and death for the world, that the Church was the one force in the world with a chance to save it ..."
There is a kind of redemption for Joe, however, as, in the end, he takes up his "cross." I love this book and hope to find time to read it again some day. But then, "so many books ..." Highly recommended.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
Powers has a talent, rare in American literature, for subtlety. His portrayal of Joe Hackett, a somewhat aloof, well-meaning but complacent Catholic priest, is a masterpiece of nuance, as realistic a character study as any I've encountered. One wouldn't think a book about the everyday goings-on of a suburban clergyman (everything from fund-raising to attending retreats to petty diocesan politicking) would hold much interest for the lay-reader, but don't let the subject matter scare you: this is a book about faith, redemption, and the wins and losses faced by all of us as we grow older (and, purportedly, wiser).
J.F. Powers's characters are built incrementally, as much through what they say and do as by what they leave unsaid and undone. The dialog here is snappy, the plotting is swift, the humor is wonderfully dry (the first chapter alone is a quiet riot), the observations of human nature are acute. The writing is razor-sharp; not a wasted word or imprecise thought to be found. And this without the stylistic bells and whistles so many writers feel the need to employ in order to "prove" their literary merit. It's not often I say that I hated to see a book come to an end, but in this case, it was true. In many ways, the novel ends just as Hackett's life is beginning.
Keep Powers in print. Read this book.
Most recent customer reviews
But I couldn't follow the evolution of the protagonist.Read more