Author: Jennifer Haigh
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: May 10, 2011
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Book Summary: 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. Elegantly crafted, sharply observed, this is Jennifer Haigh's most ambitious novel to date.
My review: I was interested in reading Faith as soon as I read the book's summary. I grew up in a religious Catholic home, attending mass Sundays and every holy day. During Lent my family fasted, didn’t eat meat on Fridays and each went without something we loved, such as chocolate in all forms. My mother even went to Church every morning for the 40 days of Lent. I attended 12 years of parochial school and a 4-year Jesuit college. I knew many priests, especially in college. Some were wonderful, some were “eh”, but they were all fascinating and a bit of a mystery. When allegations of molestation against priests began surfacing it was shocking and horrifying.
I was intrigued when I discovered that is the focus of Faith and wondered how Jennifer Haigh approached the subject in her book, narrated by Sheila McGann. She is the sister of Father Art Breen, the priest against whom the awful accusation of molestation is made. Sheila tells her story a couple of years after her brother is accused and his life ruined. She’s anxious to figure out what happened, to find answers to who and what failed Art and why he did what he did. Sheila is, essentially, conducting an investigation, a very detailed one, of Art’s life In so doing, she tells us about several members of her family including Art, and uncovers some surprising secrets.
Sheila, a high school teacher, lives in Pennsylvania. She moved out of Massachusetts to get away from her complex, dysfunctional Irish family. Sheila tells us she stopped going to church when she moved away. She and Art became close at that time, speaking frequently. When Art is accused, although, he doesn’t get in touch and Sheila is forced to seek him out. While in Massachusetts, she also learns her brother Mike’s opinion about Art and the allegations. Despite distancing herself, Sheila is soon right back into the family dynamic. The difference is this time it’s by choice and in scrutinizing relationships and behavior and asking questions she uncovers truths she never could have guessed at but that help her to better understand her family.
Sheila shares information she learned from Art as well as what she learns through her research into the church and its priests. Sheila provides us with a lot of information about the life of priests-in-training and beyond, after they are assigned to a parish, not to mention painting a detailed account of her brother’s life. She also provides us with the answers given by some of the priests and others Sheila speaks with who knew Father Breen. Haigh has written Sheila in such a way that it often feels like she’s conversing directly with us as she informs us of what’s she’s learned.
Without giving anything away, it’s important to know that Sheila has no illusions about who she is and what she’s done. She’s a strong character and the more I got to know her the more refreshing I found her, especially from my perspective as a Catholic woman. Sometimes she seems distant as she relates a particularly troubling incident. At other times she’s intimately personal. This behavior, along with the depth Haigh gives her, makes Sheila alternately strong and frail: in other words, very human and very real. This is why we believe her, even if we do not out right identify with her. It’s understandable if we don’t as one reader my not share a similar background, while another, like myself, does. But seeing her as believable can‘t be denied. The author has a real flair for this kind of fleshing out and creation of complex characters.
Haigh excels at developing many of the characters into three-dimensional flawed human beings who we recognize from our own lives as well as understand and relate to on some level. She understands human behavior. I was surprised to discover I even sympathized with and related to the priest, Father Breen, at times. It was also shocking to read the cruel , selfish and thoughtless behavior the characters inflict on each other and then realize it rings true. It’s hard to go into more detail about these characters without giving too much of this poignant and amazing story away. Faith is a reading experience you don't want to miss. Haigh weaves together a myriad of themes including love, family, and deceit in a stunning, intense and complex narrative that is fraught with misunderstandings, revelations, justices and injustices. Haigh has written an engrossing and absorbing story that you'll have difficulty putting down. Faith is a book you won't soon forget once you've finished it.
For information about Faith and Jennifer Haigh see her website
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for a copy of the book and the opportunity to read and review Faith