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5.0 out of 5 stars God and Mammon in the Midwest
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...
Published on March 27 2001 by Robin Friedman

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3.0 out of 5 stars Human is connected with holy
Actually 3.5 stars. I am a tough customer, and grade harshly.
The characters of the work make up the book: Wilf; Mrs. Bean; Billy; Msgr. Renton; etc. I can find similarity with people I have met here in the east, so the mid-west setting is not a dominant factor. The characters are more dominant than the plot, even though the description on the book jacket of the old...
Published on June 14 2004 by David Lupo


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4.0 out of 5 stars A quietly magnificent exploration of faith and doubt, July 19 2004
By 
Steve (Massachusetts) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Morte D'Urban (Paperback)
"Morte D'Urban" belongs to a long list of unfairly neglected works of the last century. As the Amazon review notes, perhaps anonymity is inevitable for a book whose cast is comprised 75% of Catholic priests and brethren. The book's jacket describes "Morte D'Urban" as a comic masterpiece, which I feel does some disservice to both the reader and the book. The book *is* funny, yes. But it's funny in a very dry and very subtle (for the most part) and ... very Midwestern way. Though Powers does, on occasion, paint his characters with too broad a stroke, they are by no means caricatures. Urban is a wonderfully complex title character--simultaneously worldly and devout, well-meaning but sometimes weak, humble yet proud. And the events of the book, though they occasionally have a slapstick feel (I won't, like the book's Introduction, spoil anything for the reader), the plot is really a series of well-crafted scenes building up to the final epilogue. Poor Father Urban. One cannot help but rue his fate, even as one can see it coming down the pike.
I couldn't help but compare this book to the numerous others I've read which (supposedly) take as their theme religious hypocrisy--particularly Sinclair Lewis's "Elmer Gantry." This book is infinitely better than any I've read so far. Powers humanizes his characters--he reveals their many flaws without condemning them; he does not stack his deck against religion, but shows how difficult it is to be truly devout in a world such as ours (and this book was written in the 1950s!). Check it out and let's keep this book in print!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Human is connected with holy, June 14 2004
By 
David Lupo "David Lupo" (Fairhaven, MA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morte D'Urban (Paperback)
Actually 3.5 stars. I am a tough customer, and grade harshly.
The characters of the work make up the book: Wilf; Mrs. Bean; Billy; Msgr. Renton; etc. I can find similarity with people I have met here in the east, so the mid-west setting is not a dominant factor. The characters are more dominant than the plot, even though the description on the book jacket of the old Image-Doubleday edition of the work put more emphasis on the plot. However, reading about Fr. Urban's travels reminded me a little bit of what little Walker Percy I have read thus far.
This little novel is a great human story. The foibles of all the characters are made visible in a way that points to them as human, wonderfully human! The Clementines (and the Dalmatians and Dolomites) are just like any Catholic religious community. Yes, they are human, and in their humanness is their holiness. I do agree with the reviewer that says that Fr. Urban seemed to outshine the other characters in a way that diminishes them. The narrator is a bit kinder to Fr. Urban. I also see this as a weakness in the novel. I was shocked at the event that brought on the end of the relationship as it was between Fr. Urban and Billy. Change is prominent.
But the humor is a big hit, the dry satire and irony, brought on many smiles and chuckles. It is a novel that touches the heart. I pass it on to a friend from Ilinois, and I wonder what he will say.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Superficiality vs. Spirituality, June 21 2002
By 
Timothy Haugh (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morte D'Urban (Paperback)
To be honest, the only reason I decided to read this book was that it was chosen as the title for a book discussion group in which I participate. Though I can't say it is one of the best novels I have ever read, it certainly has its appeals. It is a book of irony and humor, with some sharp insights into the world of the Catholic Church in America. It is the story of the struggles of Father Urban, a priest in the unknown Order of St. Clement, who progressive, dynamic approach to his vocation seems constantly in conflict with those around him.
On many levels, I found that this book spoke to me personally. I know that comedy is very difficult to write and this novel is incredibly funny in places. Also, as a young Catholic boy growing up in the Midwest that is the setting of this novel, the story constantly generated feelings of recognition in me. The points that Powers is trying to make about spirituality, religion and the Church are worthwhile and brought out well.
The weaknesses I found in this book also are quite personal to me. Though the characters are drawn quite vividly and well, I found their relentless superficiality to be very disturbing. I don't enjoy reading novels where I find it difficult to like any of the characters but this is a matter of taste. Many other readers might feel differently. Clearly, Powers is telling us something important about the religious life but I think I would have enjoyed the story more if there was at least one character in the novel I found admirable. I guess I don't think it's enough to tell us what's wrong with things. I also like a glimpse of what's right.
Still, Powers has written a powerful novel. And Urban does have his good qualities and comes to an epiphany of sorts at the story's close. Anyone who is interested in stories of spirituality and has an interest in the Catholic Church will find this novel to be funny and thought-provoking. It is definitely worth a read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars God and Mammon in the Midwest, March 27 2001
By 
Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morte D'Urban (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden Gem, Oct. 14 2002
By 
B. Cirelli (Santa Rosa, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morte D'Urban (Paperback)
This is a wonderful book. I have an MA in English Lit and never heard about this book at school. I subscribe to the New York Review of Books and it is listed as one of their favorites. Since I am Catholic and this book is about a Catholic priest I decided to read it.
Powers is a great author with a good knowledge of Catholicism and someone who knows how to be humorous. I found myself laughing out loud at certain passages of the book.
Power's shows how even "men of God" can be seduced by "men of power." Father Urban (the main protagonist) begins to understand how this is so and begins to change and become more aware of his journey towards God. I love this book because it shows how one can grow in God's love without being preachy or self righteous.
I would like this book to be made into a movie. Maybe it has already but I'm not aware of it. If there are any directors out there, check this out.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Pride Goeth Before a Fall, April 4 2000
By 
Walter Clark (Hancock, New Hampshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morte D'Urban (Paperback)
This is a book about a priest who thinks he has all the answers and feels superior to others around him. His spiritual life gets worse and worse, while he rises to positions of greater and great worldly power. All of a sudden he is stopped - by a golf ball - after which things get worse and worse for him in a wordly way, while we guess that his spritual life is improving. It helps to have read New and Old Testaments, but is not a requirement. If you like this book try... THE EGOIST, by George Meredith; THE GOOD SOLDIER, by Ford Madox Ford, LORD JIM, by Joseph Conrad, THE FALL, by Albert Camus, ALL THE KING'S MEN, by Robert Penn Warren, BABBITT, by Sinclair Lewis, PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, by Philip Roth, & SURFACING, by Margaret Atwood. {THIS IS A VERY FUNNY BOOK! ]
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bless me, father, Jan. 2 2001
By 
Richard LeComte "richlec" (Tuscaloosa, AL) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morte D'Urban (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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4.0 out of 5 stars READER BEWARE! Don't read introduction first!, April 18 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Morte D'Urban (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Vatican rag on the prairie, July 5 2000
By 
Richard LeComte "richlec" (Tuscaloosa, AL) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morte D'Urban (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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4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible A Lost Treasure., Sept. 28 2008
By 
Steven R. McEvoy "MCWPP" (Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morte D'Urban (Paperback)
This book won the national book award in 1963 for fiction. Our hero Father Urban is a little quirky and self-centered; yet even with those faults it is hard not to sympathize with him. I approached this book with some regret. It was the last of Powers' works I would have the chance to read. So I took my time and slowly read chapter by chapter, savoring the book over a much longer period than I normally would. The book was both satisfying and a bit of a disappointment. It was satisfying in that I have now completed the published books of J. F. Powers. It was also sad because of this fact. It was a bit disappointing in that the story feels unfinished. Like a chapter was left out when it went to printing.

Some of the plot was inevitable, and predictable, but the characters you meet along the way make the book very engaging and entertaining. I am a post Vatican II baby. As such, I do not know the Latin Mass - have only read books, and seen films of what the church was like before that period. Powers is a master at creating characters, and characters that are believable. His priests, brothers, monsignors and even bishops are believable to anyone who has had serious interactions even with clergy of today. I know of a priest locally who could be an Urban walking off the page to take up ministry today.

Many segments of this book were previously published as short stories in a variety of sources. Powers was a master at the short story, but his creative genius was his ability to take those short stories and turn them into a convincing novel. He has done this with both his published novels - this book Morte D'Urban and Wheat That Springeth Green. Both books were nominated for the National Book Award and Urban won. That is the testament to Powers' power and prowess with the quill. It is also witness to his ability to transcend the short story, a genre that appears to be going by the wayside, and to compile books of great depth and insight. Modern author Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, wanted to write a book of short stories, but his publisher, even with his popularity after Fight Club, would not allow him a book of short stories. Then Palauniuk wrote Haunted a collection of characters' personal stories told by a group of writers locked in a building. Powers achieves what Palahniuk does not in that his stories flow together seamlessly, where Palahniuk's are obviously individual stories.

This book is worth the read for anyone wanting a glimpse of insight into post World War II Catholicism, especially in the Midwest. But it is also a great study of people and why they do what they do - what drives them to achieve, their dreams and ultimately their failures and defeats. Unfortunately I have now read all of Powers' fiction. Fortunately the 2 books and 3 collections of short stories can be savored again and again. I can predict I have not finished with reading Powers, or Urban.
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Morte D'Urban
Morte D'Urban by J.F. Powers (Hardcover - June 1962)
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