Top positive review
Superficiality vs. Spirituality
on June 21, 2002
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.