Sunday, May 29, 2011
Faith, the new novel by Jennifer Haigh, deals with the molestation charge against a Boston priest, and how it affects him and his family. In the hands of a less-skilled author than Haigh, a "ripped from the headlines" novel like this can easily sink into cliches and rely on stereotypes. But the author does a great job of fleshing out the characters, the major ones and the minor ones, feeding the reader information as needed, building their characters and motivations through actions and well-written dialogue.
Unlike the film Doubt, this isn't necessarily a did-he-or-didn't-he story. It focuses on the interplay and history of characters more. Regardless of innocence or guilt, the story focuses on the faith people have in their family, and themselves (and their religion, of course). Not everything is always as it seems, Haigh keeps you guessing, and even has a few surprises along the way.
My only complaint is the author's choice of using the priest's sister Sheila as the narrator of the story. In the beginning it kept me, the reader, at a distance. Like I was hearing the story secondhand. I got used to it by the second half of the book, and I understand why she chose to do this. It was to make it more personal—someone from the family was telling the priest's story. So maybe I was okay with the author using this device to tell the story after all; I just didn't find the narrator's voice particularly compelling, or her character very interesting. In fact, out of all the well-drawn characters, hers was the least developed.
I had never read anything by Haigh before, but she is an excellent writer, and I will have to pick up her earlier novels.