A comedic and byzantine novel to remind us that priests are ordinary guys deserving respect.
Richard Antall has written a delightful novel showing how people often burden Catholic priests with crap when they should be treated with respect. Granted, priests devote their lives for God’s children, but that doesn’t mean the children have to act like self-centered millennials who voted for the fraud Joe Biden and expect everything whenever they insist. Reading Antall can give all of us a change in perspective; what we often think are disasters may not be so, and insisting that priests immediately tend to our disasters may disturb others more than we know.
In short, reading Antall’s novel can help us not only to show more respect to priests, but also to warn us to cool it with the nonsense we throw at them.
Antall paints a delightful cast of priest characters. No Bing Crosby here, singing his merry way through a parish with relatively docile punks. Fr. William Laughlin, the protagonist, is a forty-something priest who is hitting his stride in a parish loaded with odd characters and who finds contemplation of his daily prayers more a chore than a loving service to the Lord. (Sound familiar? How often do we lay people pray with rapt attention instead of tap away insipid messages within useless and leftist social media services like Facebook or Twitter?)
The pastor, Fr. Jako, is a grizzled old priest, who talks like an ordinary man, peppering his speech with vulgarisms like any other ordinary old (or, for that matter, young) man. Jako calls his doctor “the tricky bastard” (130) and is unashamed to use the past participle “goddamned” as a choice adjective (63). Fr. Laughlin himself is not exempt from using the ordinary speech of ordinary people, as when he calls Carl, the aggrieved groom whose fiancée called off the wedding, “Poor bastard” (7 and again on 42; italics in original).
Whether the publisher, an obviously Catholic outfit, or the author himself demanded it, several instances of vulgar terms are replaced with typographic bleeps, such as “&#%!” (41, 83). It’s easy to determine what letters the characters substitute, so the reader obtains an investigative delight in solving the puzzle of such linguistic naughtiness. Towards novel’s end, Antall pokes fun at this practice of omitting vulgar terms directly with Fr. Laughlin exclaiming, “No expletive deleted, Sherlock” (195).
The definition of “A parish is like Peyton Place” (87; italics in original) may be the guiding motif of Antall’s novel, and the numerous situations which present themselves to Fr. Laughlin justify such a claim. The novel is ostensibly concerned with the cancelled wedding of Carl and Mary, but interspersed with the “resolution” of this plot are episodes where Fr. Laughlin wisely and compassionately counsels a young mother who aborted and regrets her choice; a gay man who is tortured not only about his same-sex attraction, but, more importantly, since having same-sex attraction is not per se sinful, having engaged in homosexual activity; a best friend who lost his business and needs medical attention; and several other crises—all of which are crammed into one day.
Aristotle would be proud. The reader, however, may come away from the novel, wondering how any man—friend or psychiatrist or priest—could juggle such problems and claims on his time.
One technical problem can frustrate the reader: an annoying spelling out of verb tenses instead of the use of contractions. “I’m sorry to call you this early…” and “It’s not an easy situation…” are the expressions which ordinary people would use instead of “I am sorry…” or “It is not….”
Overall, though, Antall has written an enjoyable novel where all plot points are (relatively) resolved at novel’s end. Any items which are not resolved could become the bases for future novels. It would be even more enjoyable to see this novel translated into film.
Attention: Mel Gibson, here’s your next new property….