When Father Art Breen is accused of molesting a nine year old boy, his family reacts in differing ways. His mother is unable to believe it of him while his younger brother convicts him immediately. His sister Sheila wants to believe he's innocent and sets out to search for the truth. She is the primary narrator, clearly telling Art's story well after the fact. As she uncovers more and more about the accusation itself and Art's choice not to defend himself from the allegation, she shares the story of their family, in which Art was simultaneously his mother's revered eldest and the object of his stepfather's disdain and derision. Sheila also uncovers the checkered history of the troubled young mother, Kath, who has made the accusation against Father Art on behalf of her son. As her glimpses into a fuller picture coalesce, Sheila is assailed by doubt, wondering if the Art she knows and loves could possibly have done this monstrous thing.
Tightly written and evenly paced, this novel examines the many different angles every story contains. The adage that there are two sides to every story is true exponentially here. There is Art's story, as unknowable as it might be. There is Kath's story. There is the story Sheila is stitching together from various sources. And finally, there is the whole truth, unblemished and unattainable. Haigh has used the Catholic priest abuse scandal to raise questions about what we believe and why. This is not a religious book. Faith and religion are two different issues. But the struggles and wrestlings of faith are beautifully, sharply portrayed here.
Despite the factual inspiration of the novel and the way the accusation drives the plot, this is in actuality an intense family drama, an examination of the way in which the people who know Art best react to his possible guilt. As the story unfolds, glimpses of intrigue, of secrets as long kept as the Church's, threaten to spill into the open, changing the landscape of faith, just as the scandal in Boston did for so many of the Catholic faithful. Haigh has done a wonderful job portraying her characters as real and flawed. The reader, learning ever more, wavers, just as Sheila does, between having faith and doubt in Art's innocence. Tightly woven and engrossing, this is hard to put down, keeping the reader turning the pages until the very end, needing to know not only whether Art is guilty but also whether his family's faith, in the church and in each other, has survived this annus horribilus.
For more information about Jennifer Haigh and the book visit her webpage.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.