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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Faith by Jennifer Haigh
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 978-0-06-075580-5
Hardcover $25.99

When I first read Jennifer Haigh's debut novel, Mrs. Kimble, which won the PEN/Hemingway award, I was just stunned. She revealed the life of Mr. Kimble by telling the stories of his three wives. I bought many copies of the book and gave them as gifts.

In her two subsequent books, Baker Towers and The Condition, Haigh lived up to the promise of her first novel. When I saw that her latest book, Faith, was publishing in May, I put that at the top of my TBR list, and am I glad I did.

Haigh sets her story in Boston in 2004, shortly after scandal began to rock the Catholic diocese. Many priests had been accused of sexually abusing young people, and the large Catholic community was devastated.

Sheila McGann tells the story of her half-brother, Art Breen, a priest accused by an eight-year-old boy's mother of molesting her son. There is an element of mystery to the novel as Sheila attempts to discover whether the charges are true.

Art's mother, a devout Catholic, believes her son could never do what he is accused of. Sheila's brother Mike, a former cop and father of three young boys, is disgusted, believing that no eight-year-old boy could lie about being molested. Sheila supports Art, but has her doubts.

The title of the book, Faith, is brilliant, for this is a book not about religious faith, but more about faith in your family. Sheila says to Mike,
"Sorry, Mike, but sooner or later you have to decide what you believe." It was a thing I'd always known but until recently had forgotten: that faith is a decision. In its most basic form, it is a choice.
I love those lines, because faith really is an active thing. You can grow up attending mass every week, participating in the sacraments, but to really have faith, you have to choose to believe in something.

Family is at the heart of this novel, and Sheila's family has its troubles, like most. She says:
We are a family of secrets. Without knowing quite how I knew it, I understood what might be said, and what must be quiet. If from the outside the rules appeared arbitrary, from the inside they were perfectly clear.
I suspect that Sheila's family is not as unlike other families as she believes. I think many people reading this book will relate to the McGann/Breen family.

What I like about Haigh's books is that the characters are so real, you think that you actually know them. Father Art is the most well drawn. He is a lonely man, even as a youth; perhaps being a stepson and stepbrother added to that sense of being different.

As a priest, Art cannot marry or have a family of his own, and this isolation hurts him. His loneliness is palpable, and when he meets the young boy and his drug-addicted mother, he feels a sense of family and belonging.

The least well drawn character is Art's mother. Sheila and Mike do not like their mother, they make many cutting comments about her, but I was never clear exactly what she had done to warrant this dislike. She seems to be very distant from her children, and perhaps the author made her character less clear to her children to emphasize that distance.

Faith is an emotional ride, and it affected me deeply. Days later, I find myself still thinking about Father Art, my heart aching for him. The writing is superb, the characters are so real. It is simply the best book I have read this year. It ranks up with Emma Donoghue's amazing Room in the emotions that I felt when I read it.

I grew up in a Catholic family, and that part of the story resonates with me, but you do not have to be Catholic to appreciate the richness of this story. If you have siblings, you will understand the feelings here.

Rating 5 of 5 stars.

Thanks to Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours for the preview copy. 



  1. Wow, this is a RAVE review! I am so looking forward to reading this one - I've already been recommending it to people just based on the reviews I've seen.

    I'm so glad that this latest book lived up to your expectations. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  2. Heather Johnson pointed me to this review because I was on the fence about reading the book. You've convinced me that I need to read it. Great review!

  3. I seem to be in the minority when it comes to this book. I mean, I LIKED it, I just didn't LOVE it, you know? I don't know much about Catholicism and I felt like I would have appreciated the book more if I did. Anyway, it's interesting to hear other people's opinions on the book!