Author: Jennifer Haigh
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“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.”
Thoughts: The truth behind national headlines is never quite as simple as the media would have the public believe. In Faith, Jennifer Haigh explores the details and the truth behind the stories of child abuse in the Catholic church. A difficult subject at any time, Ms. Haigh also adds to that the complexity of an estranged family. The result is a novel that is painful to read at times but one that ultimately shows how even the strongest believers can doubt.
What is faith? Ultimately, this is the essential question at the heart of the story. Even better, it explores the different types of faith – the faith one has in a parent, spouse, or sibling, the faith one has in a friend or lover, the faith one has in a person in a position of authority, let alone the faith one has in a religious sentiment or ideology. How do they all interact, butt against each other and cause conflict? How does one keep the faith in light of this conflict? The exploration of this is what gives Faith its power.
For those readers who are Roman Catholic, Jennifer Haigh does not shy away from one of the most embarrassing and toxic exposures to the Church that it has faced in hundreds of years. Yet, she does so with a gentle touch by reminding the reader that not all of those who were accused were actually guilty of such heinous crimes. Did the idea of faith do more harm than good in those years? Was the fear of losing the faithful the reason for the clerical witch hunt that occurred in the 1990s and 2000s? How many people took advantage of the fear and shame that fell upon anyone wearing a collar in those two decades? How many were looking for a free handout from a Church with very deep and open pockets? One will never truly know, but Ms. Haigh’s version definitely makes one think.
Faith is a novel for anyone who is quick to judge or generalize. It is for those who doubt and those who have none. It is for Roman Catholics and atheists alike. The lessons learned cross religious and familial boundaries and become less a story about religion than about human nature. Immensely poignant and bittersweet, Faith is haunting and unforgettable.
Thank you to Mark Ferguson from HarperCollins for my review copy!