Book reviews Uncategorized

Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World (1907; republished by St. Augustine’s Press, 2011)

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Title this casual review: Brave New World Revisited Yet Again, or, How Could a Century-Old Novel Have Become a Frightening Prophecy of Life in the United States in 2023?

Several Catholic sources mentioned Benson’s novel as timely for contemporary life.  After reading it, one can concur.

Granted, some elements of this science fiction novel written 116 years ago miss the mark regarding technological advances that humanity would experience well beyond 1998 (the last future-identified year in the novel itself).  However, other elements hit the target directly, including the following.

In his preface to the novel, Ralph McInerny concludes that “Three-quarters of a century before John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Robert Hugh Benson imagined a Culture of Death” (vii).  C. John McCloskey III identifies the most frightening example of the death-loving culture in his introduction to the novel when he states that “The Culture of Death is omnipresent in the novel, particularly the universal availability of euthanasia.  Chillingly in an early scene, the ‘ministers of Euthanasia’ descend upon the survivors of a ‘Volor’ crash in order to finish them off” (xvii; volor is a type of airplane).

The following are quotable quotes which students of literature will find worthy to study to determine how what was written in 1907 applies to life today (British spellings retained):

On the feebleness and decay of Protestant Christianity and the remnant of faithful (orthodox) Catholic Christianity:

“I think, that, humanly speaking, Catholicism will decrease rapidly now.  It is perfectly true that Protestantism is dead.  Men do recognize at last that a supernatural Religion involves an absolute authority, and that Private Judgment in matters of faith is nothing else than the beginning of disintegration.  And it is also true that since the Catholic Church is the only institution that even claims supernatural authority, with all its merciless logic, she has again the allegiance of practically all Christians who have any supernatural belief left” (8).

On Islam’s attacks on the West:

“the patient East proposed at last to proselytise by the modern equivalents of fire and sword those who had laid aside for the most part all religious beliefs except that in Humanity” (17).

On the barbarity of mobs, such as those of young people who think they are fighting “for Palestine” when they are promoting genocide of Jews:

“And then the rest of the world—the madness that had seized upon the nations; the amazing stories that had poured in that day of the men in Paris, who, raving like Bacchantes, had stripped themselves naked in the Place de Concorde, and stabbed themselves to the heart, crying out to thunders of applause that life was too enthralling to be endured; of the woman who sang himself mad last night in Spain, and fell laughing and foaming in the concert hall at Seville; of the crucifixion of the Catholics that morning in the Pyrenees, and the apostasy of three bishops in Germany….  And this…and this…and a thousand more horrors were permitted, and God made no sign and spoke no word….” (120).

On Antifa domestic terrorists and Hamas terrorists destroying Western civilization:

“but this was a cheap price to pay for the final and complete extermination of the Catholic past” (179).

On the current state of the world, described for the “new pope” in the novel:

“Christianity had smouldered away from Europe like a sunset on darkening peaks; Eternal Rome was a heap of ruins; in East and West alike a man had been set upon the throne of God, had been acclaimed as divine.  The world had leaped forward; social science was supreme; men had learned consistency; they had learned, too, the social lessons of Christianity apart from a Divine Teacher, or, rather, they said, in spite of Him” (194).

Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture and woke zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, buy this book directly from the publisher:

Book reviews

T. M. Gaouette’s For Eden’s Sake (2019)

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Unlike cheesy and ultra-pious “Christian” fiction, Gaouette’s novel depicts a young couple who, in a drunken stupor, banged each other in a one-night stand and whose resulting abortion decision is handled realistically.

I feared that this novel would be yet another “religious” work fictionalizing abortion with lots of “come to Jesus” moments and citations and transcriptions of Scripture galore.

Buzzer!  The author must have read Dana Gioia’s The Catholic Writer Today and Other Essays (Wiseblood Books, 2019), wherein he writes that “Catholic literature is rarely pious.  [….]  Catholic writing tends to be comic, rowdy, rude, and even violent” (20).  Whether the book is as naughty as the opening paragraph of this review, I leave to the reader; “Having just left her asleep in the crumpled bed I’d risen from” (4) is perhaps the naughtiest line in the entire work, and that ain’t saying much.

But, since this is not a college English class lecture and a book review meant for social media and not scholars (whom no one reads anyway), I digress…

Gaouette’s ability to render her characters realistically could lead the reader to miss some important polarities and deeper philosophical ideas which practitioners of old-fashioned literary criticism used in colleges and universities before the woke nonsense replaced solid literature analysis with Democratic Party political activism, such as pro-abortion agitprop and anti-Semitism.

For example, archetypal literary critics could spend some time examining why the main characters are named Isaac Prince (twenty-two years old) and Rebecca Stratham (nineteen) and why their child is named Eden, especially since the novel does not explain the religious significance.  (Remember: it isn’t a preachy religious tract.)

A deconstructionist literary critic might discuss the evident “polarities” represented by the characters to somehow “undermine” or “destabilize” the “meaning” of the “text” (such buzzwords to say that a decon critic wants to destroy what an author tries to communicate!).

For example, Isaac obviously lives his religious upbringing—he is not ashamed to confess his sin of fornication in the Sacrament of Reconciliation early in the novel (10ff)—while Rebecca seems to be bereft of any type of religious training.  Isaac comes from a functioning two-parent heterosexual family, while Rebecca’s family dynamics are unknown, the exception being a materialistic and emotionally cold father.

Even the friends of these two main characters function as polarities.  While rural boy Isaac relies on his childhood buddy and brother-in-faith Kevin to help him navigate the responsibilities of adulthood in the big city, Rebecca’s pal is the so-called pro-“choice” (that is, abortion-loving) and aggressive Tess.  That Tess’ abortion is disclosed only towards the end of the novel accounts somewhat for her intolerance of pro-life ideas and persons (hence her disgust and hatred of Isaac, whom she derides for his “patriarchal” care for both Rebecca and the unborn child), but she remains a flat and (worse) an unlikeable character.

A feminist literary critic could explore the evident patriarchal oppression of women and other now ridiculously outdated tenets of traditional political feminism by determining if Isaac is indeed oppressing Rebecca with the power of his phallus or otherwise dominating her with his heteropatriarchy or similar nonsense that most students merely laugh at behind their Women’s Studies professors’ backs.

A gay and lesbian literary critic might have some material to work with to justify a weird and utterly false interpretation of the novel.  Hmmm…Isaac and his best buddy Kevin share an apartment together?  Fishy.  They were boyhood “friends”?  Doubly fishy.  Similarly, Rebecca and her friend Tess also share an apartment?  Triply fishy.  Tess is more a domineering (over Rebecca) masculine type while Rebecca is ever so girly?  Quadruply fishy!  However, beyond these preliminary salacious suggestions, a gay and lesbian critic would be as effective in analyzing the novel as a deconstructionist critic would provide help to rabbinical scholars explicating the Babylonian Talmud to understand what God meant by the lex talionis.

Sidebar here, touching on masculinist literary criticism, designed for heterosexual men.  Chapter 11 (127ff) wherein Isaac and Kevin go shopping in a store for baby items is wonderful comic relief.  What likeable dumbasses!

A Marxist literary critic would revel in the clash of ideologies represented by the polarities of the life-affirming Isaac and the stridently anti-life so-called “feminist” Tess (“feminist” in quotation marks, since a genuine feminist would support the life of the unborn child and reject abortion, as the nineteenth century founders of the American feminist movement advocated).  Also, since Marxist literary criticism delves into financial aspects of literature, examining the power of money and other transactions that Isaac presents to Rebecca in order to save the child from being killed in abortion would constitute a wonderful literary analysis paper…for a pro-life English professor, that is.

Fortunately, students of literature and the general reading public can reject the above tired literary theories and realize the worth of Gaouette’s novel through the perspective of right-to-life literary criticism, for which I formulated five questions.

1.  Does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some “thing” which is priceless?

Gaouette’s work illustrates the pricelessness of human life admirably and, in contrast to pro-abortion novels which read more as ideological essays than fiction, does so without hearkening to pro-life responses to anti-life diatribes against the first civil right to life.  The appreciation of human life as a good in itself is particularly manifested by Rebecca, who achieves a life-affirming position in a calculus of actions to be explored further below.

2.  Does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?

A surface reading of Gaouette’s novel would not answer this question affirmatively since it is not preachy.  The reader can, however, determine an answer by examining the reactions of those who devalue human life or aspects of our humanity which everybody should support.  Here, again, Tess is the obvious catalyst to help readers understand how an anti-life philosophy manifests itself; furthermore, by contrast, the reader can appreciate the human lives whom she degrades.

For example, Tess does not think highly of pro-lifers—a litotes if there ever was one!  She reduces Isaac to “this moron” whose intent in trying to save the child from abortion is “all about taking away our reproductive rights” (34).  The universe of pro-life persons she similarly reduces negatively as in the following falsity: “Typical pro-lifer.  Cares only about the fetus when it’s inside the woman.  Then they forget all about them when they’re born.  They let them suffer then, don’t they?” (82).

3.  If the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family?

Sorry, not sorry, gay, lesbian, and transgender zealots who see the LGBTQ distortion of heterosexual normativity in every work of fiction.  Gaouette’s work doesn’t cater to such a warped sense of human sexuality as most publishers demand of their authors to be politically correct.  Isaac is a real man, “soft eyes, strong physique, and manly features” (105) whose sperm do their job on the first try.  Rebecca is stereotypically feminine and womanly, not pink haired, studded with nose and tongue rings, wearing amorphous gender-free clothing, or willing to kill unborn human life.

Moreover, while Rebecca suffers from a broken family structure (her mother died when she was apparently a little girl “all those years ago” [32]), Isaac can rely on both of his parents to support him in his efforts to, first, save the life of the unborn child whom he created with Rebecca from abortion and, second, to raise their daughter on his own after her birth.

Further, Isaac’s parents’ reactions to his paternity are realistic and not preachy as some ideology-driven, albeit pro-life, fiction might render them.  For example, the father’s reaction to the announcement that Isaac is a daddy—and (remember from the first paragraph of this review) became one by screwing a chick in a one-night stand in a drunken stupor—is utterly honest:

After what seemed like forever, he stood.  “I’m going to bed,” he said.  “And I think you should do the same.”  He lifted the jug and shuffled to the fridge.  After shutting the door, he turned to me.  “We can talk in the morning.”  He headed out of the room.  (41)

Wouldn’t a father react with such speechlessness and tiredness if the son he thought was such a “good boy” seemed to fuck up his life?

4.  Does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?

The range of responses to this question moves from Isaac’s consistent support for the life of the unborn child despite the impact that caring for the child would have on his own life, Rebecca’s, or his parents’ lives to Tess’ equally consistent perception of the unborn child as, in the customary feminist distortion of life, a roadblock to Rebecca’s success or merely another opportunity for the exercise of male power over the life of yet another woman.

Most significantly, while her belief in the perspective that human life is a philosophical good, which has been hinted above, Rebecca’s affirming the life of the unborn child has been accomplished in a lengthy trajectory.  The calculus of life-affirming steps moves from her being a character assertive in her right that “fortunately, for me, it’s my body, Isaac.  You guys don’t get a choice” (22; italics in original), to someone who nonchalantly uses pro-abortion dehumanizing language to refer to the unborn child as when she calls her “the parasite that was growing within” (54), to one who becomes aware of the child’s humanity through ultrasound images, and eventually to one who provides a gift to the child after birth, knowing that Isaac has committed to raising their daughter himself (a gift given before the novel’s denouement, not to be spoiled here).

Thus, unlike the flat character Tess, Rebecca is eminently more of a round character than Isaac, having come to this heightened character status through acceptance of a series of life-affirming principles showing the “perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some ‘thing’ which is priceless”, which ineluctably leads Rebecca to accept “that unborn […] human life has an inherent right to exist”—an impossible task to accomplish in anti-life fiction.

Moreover, Isaac and Tess are not the only ones who hold firm positions on the value of unborn human life.  Many other minor characters are worth studying, such as the nurse operating the ultrasound who comments approvingly on the unborn child’s development, especially the heartbeat, or Isaac’s parents, who are committed to assist Isaac and the child once she is born, or Isaac’s birth mother.

5.  When they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective?

This last question of right-to-life literary theory cannot be answered definitively since the characters are still in their youth and their lives together as an integral family are not fulfilled chronologically.  The reader can conjecture, however, that at least one of the characters, Isaac, maintains the religious principles of his parents especially when he exults in the preciousness of his daughter’s life vis-à-vis God’s creation:

“Eden,” I whispered.  It just came to me and it was so fitting, because everything God created was perfect.  And hearing me speak her name sent another wash through me, the emotion leading to a tightness in my throat.  And I only managed to whisper, “It’s Daddy.”  (163)

In contrast, although she seems to acknowledge a religious foundation for life, as evidenced by her purchasing an overtly Catholic religious necklace for her daughter, Rebecca’s acknowledgement of the divine presence in the world is superficial at best.  After all, buying a religious item for someone else can hardly substantiate that the person him- or herself has recognized “a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective”; it may, at least, suggest her openness to such a philosophical foundation.

At 180 pages, Gaouette’s novel is a quick and enjoyable read.  Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture and woke zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, buy this book directly from the publisher:

Book reviews

Rajasree Variyar’s The Daughters of Madurai (Union Square, 2023)

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Abortion zealots who also support the killing of newborn girls (infanticide) will censor this novel for its life-affirming message, so read it now.

Variyar has written a well-developed narrative of an Indian mother’s effort to save her newborn daughter from being killed for the “crime” of being born a female.  While the pro-life world knew about female infanticide in India for decades, this novel may shock ignorant American readers (I know, I know…that’s a redundancy) and should help feminists (the genuine ones, that is, which means pro-life feminists) advocate for the lives of their newborn sisters as much as they fight for the lives of their unborn sisters in danger of being killed by abortion.

The structure of Variyar’s novel is especially interesting for its inclusion of fetological facts preceding key chapters, which function not only as guides for the development of the infanticide narrative, but also as teaching tools for readers who are ignorant of the development of an unborn child.  This is especially important in today’s culture when high school and college students are indoctrinated by leftist and woke ideas about unborn life instead of being taught subjects they should know, like grammar or Chemistry.

The combined fetological notations are, thus, an education in the life of an unborn child:

Chapter 6: “The first month / Now her mouth, lower jaw, blood cells, and circulation develop. / She is the size of a grain of rice” [61].

Chapter 7: “The second month / Now her heart has formed.  Fingers and toes webbed like a frog’s. / The sketch of features—eyes, ears, mouth, nose. / She is the size of a gooseberry” [76].

Chapter 9: “The third month / Now her tail has disappeared. / Her fingers and toes have lost their webbing and gained their nails. / She is plum-size” [106].

Chapter 11: “The fourth month / Now her face moves, smiles, frowns. / She hears the sound of her mother’s heartbeat” [133].

Chapter 12: “The end of the fourth month / There are nails on her tiny fingers and toes. / Her teeth and bones are strengthening. / She is the size of a mango” [152].

Chapter 13: “The fifth month / The skin on her fingertips swirl into prints. / She begins to move her limbs.  Her mother feels her flutter” [166].

Chapter 15: “The sixth month / Now she hears the lullaby her mother sings to her sister. / It soothes her.  She has hair and lashes of white. / Her skin is flushed pomegranate-red” [198].

Chapter 16: “The seventh month / Now she twists and turns in her mother’s womb. / Her tiny fists open and close at the sound of her mother’s voice. / Her heartbeat calms” [215].

Chapter 17: “The eighth month / Now her eyes can focus.  Her wrinkles are smoothing over her baby fat. / She is the size of a cabbage” [225].

Chapter 19: “The end of the ninth month / Now she is chubby with fat, and her bones have hardened. / Her home is too small for her, holding her close and warm. / She reaches for the world’s embrace” [248].

For committing the crime of humanizing the unborn child, Variyar’s novel will certainly be condemned by abortion zealots and their fellow gang members, those who support infanticide, the killing of newborns.  It behooves the rest of us who are civil rights activists and pro-life readers (same thing) to enjoy her work.

Of course, the novel is more than a transcription of fetological facts about an unborn child’s development.  It is a frightening study of the depths which humans reach when they devalue the lives of fellow human beings.

Pro-lifers, of course, know that the devaluation of human life occurs, first, linguistically when any stage of human life is reduced to animal or non-human imagery.  Thus, a pro-life reader would know that the grandmother who calls Janani’s newborn girl “The useless thing” (5) and, later, urges her to “‘get rid of it’” (113) practices standard dehumanization before a human life is killed.

Since there is such a thing as post-abortion syndrome (PAS), the novel includes several passages which illustrate what could be labeled post-infanticide syndrome (PIS, an unfortunate acronym which could distract from the seriousness of the matter).  For example, Janani speculates that “In this quietness, she felt as though she could feel spirits lingering, hear little feet on the hard dirt” [19] and that, of her two daughters who were killed, “What would the other two look like now, if they had been allowed to live?” (21).  Her post-infanticide speculation is not merely a one-time event, for it continues throughout the novel.  Janani imagines “two other little bodies beside this one”, her living daughter’s body (62).  Janani reflects that “Her second girl, Lavanika’s first little sister, would be about the same age” (70).

Besides anti-life language used to dehumanize the unborn and newborn child, the novel illustrates the dehumanizing effect of the absence of heterosexual marriage, especially as understood in the Jewish and Christian West (remember that the setting for the novel is Hindu India).  Janani’s husband, for example, does not respect either himself or his wife when he has sex with a whore.

The distortion of the heterosexual union by a life-denying philosophy affects more than the husband and wife, of course.  It is shameful that Janani’s mother-in-law speaks thus about the Indian government’s effort to save newborn baby girls from infanticide by offering “baby cradles” (comparable to safe-baby schemes in the United States) for the peasants: “Can you imagine the shame?  Not being able to decide the fate of your own child?  Giving it up, just like that.  They won’t be able to hold their heads up” (75).  This character certainly does not fit the stereotypical grandmother, a loving older woman, ready to bake cookies for her grandbabies when they visit Grandma.  She’s a killer.  Only in a culture which thinks infanticide is the norm would an effort to save newborn babies from being abandoned or killed be shameful.

If only India would someday convert to Christianity en masse not only to protect unborn and newborn lives, but also to secure the self-respect which should obtain between men and women.

Some final reductionist paragraphs from the main character may be a sufficient first step in India’s move from a life-denying philosophy to a life-affirming one.  Nila interjects a couple of paragraphs about “the millions of girls who are missing from India’s population.  Girls smothered and poisoned and drowned and buried alive.  Girls that never emerge from their mother’s wombs” (323-4).

One flaw in the narrative is the inclusion of an unnecessary lesbian relationship.  While one may presume that the lesbianism was forced on the author because that’s what publishers expect under the politically incorrect regime of the LGBTQ distortion of sexuality, there is truly no need for the narrator Nila to develop a lesbian relationship with a woman named Iphigenia.  It would be interesting to speculate that the lesbian relationship that the narrator values is a direct effect of the distortion of how a heterosexual marriage should be lived, but studying or justifying the intrusion of an LGBTQ element must be relegated to future research by an enterprising young student of literature for a woke professor’s literature class.

Book reviews

Jennifer Haigh’s Mercy Street (HarperCollins, 2022)

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Following the template of “girls gone wrong”, Jennifer Haigh has written a wonderful depiction of abortion zealots gone wrong, a novel which should encourage readers to continue to rejoice in their ordinary, heterosexually (re)productive, and pro-life lives.

Granted, that may not have been the intention of the author (trying to illustrate the “benefits” of abortion, I guess), but the characters are so hopeless, purposeless, and downright STOOPID that anybody reading the novel would feel much happier knowing that his or her life AIN’T so bad after all.

Moreover, Haigh’s novel comes close to being a fictional support for the pro-life movement, as I argue below, applying the questions of right-to-life literary theory to the work, primarily because the characters’ world is so devoid of purpose that they function as contrasts to the anti-life mentality of the abortion business which is supposed to be the framework for the novel.

For, an abortion clinic is, after all, still a place where women are harmed, where unborn babies are killed, and where fathers are alienated.  The negative connotation of any abortion clinic obtains despite five decades of feminist rhetoric and blabber about women’s “choice”, “empowerment”, “liberation”, and other euphemisms for the brutality expressed in the first sentence of this paragraph.

Let’s examine the novel vis-à-vis the questions of right-to-life literary theory, shall we?

1.  Does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some “thing” which is priceless?

          Unfortunately, Haigh’s characters cannot apply any higher philosophical value to life beyond their immediate physical or political needs.  For example, middle-aged Timmy, a key character who interacts with the main character, lives solely for his addiction: daily mounds of marijuana.  (Two annual trips to Florida constitute the paternal attention he gives to his teenaged son, now raised by his ex-wife.)  Forty-three year old Claudia, the main character, thinks her job as a counselor/marketer for the abortion clinic is her summum bonum: “For Claudia, dealing with unplanned pregnancies—prevention, remediation—was more than a career.  It was her mission, her life’s work” (257).

          Pro-life activists who protest outside abortion companies/clinics can use Claudia’s stress as evidence that abortion businesses are demeaning and frightful.  For example, she affirms in close proximity quotes that “Work has been stressful lately” and “I mean, it’s always stressful” (36).  The pro-life reader can sympathize with this pro-abortion character’s stress; much later in the novel, Claudia describes how a “real” abortion clinic operates (she is trying to denigrate a crisis pregnancy center): “The place had no metal detector, no cameras, not even a security guard.  At a real clinic, such measures would be automatic.  At a real clinic, the staff would be afraid” (204).

It is no wonder, then, that, when her mother asks her indirectly why she works at an abortion clinic (“I don’t know how you can work there”), Claudia does not reply verbally, but responds nevertheless: “The person who says it—even if she’s your mother—is trying to start a conversation you don’t want to have” (255).

          How horrible and terribly vapid that smelling like burnt weeds and holding a job which involves harming women, killing unborn babies, and alienating fathers—and not wanting to talk about it—are the existential goods that these characters cite to guide them through their years on the planet.

2.  Does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?

          The Nazi-like disgust that the novel’s pro-abortion characters have for humanity is striking.  Claudia is especially a hot mess in this regard.  Her view of children counters that of the rest of humanity; she “didn’t love children—at least, not in the global, unconditional way women were supposed to” (22).  Her view towards people in general is derived from a purely economic misinterpretation of her mother’s work in a nursing home.  Her mother “raised other people’s kids because it was one of only a few things she could earn money doing.  The world was full of discarded people, sickly old ones and damaged young ones, and she was a paid caretaker” (17-8).

          Used tissues should be “discarded”, but that adjective should never be used for fellow human beings—unless one adopts the Nazi (and pro-abortion) philosophy that there is such a thing as a life not worthy of life.

3.  If the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family?

          LGBTQ and abortion activists (virtually the same political identity group, of course) will not like how Haigh’s characters support heterosexual normativity despite their best efforts to live according to secular principles regarding sex and families.

          Claudia’s need for heterosexual normativity would be pathetic to LGBTQ and (especially) transgender zealots, but sympathetic to the pro-life world, as in a touching scene where the teenaged Claudia works at a car shop: “She sat in the back like a daughter on television.  A cherished daughter being driven somewhere, her mother in the passenger seat, her father at the wheel” (45).  Saccharine, maybe, but the comparison demonstrates how desperately Claudia wanted ordinary family life.

          Claudia’s desire for heterosexual normativity in a traditional family structure continues.  She states that “she didn’t want to know” whether her mother would have aborted her if abortion were legal in Maine (she was conceived in May 1971), yet the narrator says that Naomi, a fellow abortion clinic worker, “was the mother Claudia wished she’d had” (47, 84).

          Even Timmy, the marijuana dealer, thought that marrying the mother of his unborn baby “seemed like the right thing to do” even though they barely knew each other (164).

          By novel’s end, however, heterosexual normativity reigns supreme, a denouement which begs the question: why, therefore, was it necessary to include an abortion business in the plot?  Was it just a means to end the novel “happy” since there is nothing happy about an abortion?  Or was it the author’s/narrator’s genuine effort, in Marxist literary critical fashion, to overthrow the ideology of anti-life feminist matriarchy with heterosexuality which has been a feature of humanity since we oozed out of the slime?

          Whatever the answer is, it is delightful to know that the neurotic, super-pious, living-out-of-his-mother’s-basement, pro-life protestor Anthony now has a job at a deli, and, when he comes across the woman whom he first screwed, the reader perceives that they will most likely go on a date (here’s where the audience goes “Aw…”).

Even Claudia is overcoming the oppression of feminist pro-abortion ideology by choosing life.  Although she is still working at the abortion clinic (think cognitive dissonance), she is obviously pregnant and declaims the following secular version of a pro-life affirmation of motherhood:

Finding herself accidentally pregnant in middle age was the second-greatest surprise of her life.

          The greater surprise was that she could do it.  (328)

On the last page of the novel, Claudia expands her pro-life declamation with the following:

Soon, soon, she would give birth to her mother.  In the dream she had found this ridiculous, but also correct and delightful.

It was the best possible thing.  (338)

4.  Does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?

          Like contemporary abortion novels written by openly anti-civil rights authors, Haigh’s novel does not recognize the first civil right, the right to life of the unborn child.  The pro-abortion characters express their hatred of the unborn child to be killed in abortion with the usual contempt, sometimes in new anti-life phrases which further distort his or her humanity.

          For example, Claudia defines her miscarried child, a baby lost at eight weeks, whom she did not want, as

a fetus the size of a gumball.

          It wasn’t a baby; it was a menstrual period.  (97)

Note that the negation, the rhetorical use of “not”, followed by definition, is reinforced by being its own paragraph, as though the narrator/author wanted to emphasize the dehumanization of the unborn child.

          Claudia continues her rant about the fetus not being a person later in a series of adjectives, showing how ignorant she is of fetologists’ research into the activities of the unborn human being: “this mute, unthinking knot of tissue—alive, yes, but unformed, unconscious, incapable of tenderness or reasoning or even laughter” (130-1).

          Even a hallmark of women’s reproductive capacity, pregnancy, is denigrated by these anti-life characters.  While life-affirming (pro-life) women regard pregnancy as a joyous possibility of being female, Claudia, in contrast, compares pregnancy to a burning building with a fire on each floor (14).

          Just like other pro-abortion novels, even ones written by activists who support abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, if recognizing the first civil right to life is impossible for these pro-abortion characters, one would think that saying the word “abortion” would not be, but it is.  Instead of saying the word “abortion”, clinic employees use an acronym to hide the name of the killing they perform: “An AB.  That’s what they called it.  Whenever possible, they avoided saying the word” (26).

          The narrator, seemingly recording Claudia’s reflections on an aborting mother’s experience, uses multiple euphemisms for the killing about to occur:

In an hour the procedure would be over, and Hannah’s visit to the clinic would become part of her past.  When she thought about it at all, she’d remember a youthful mistake, quickly corrected.  In the spring she would graduate from Pilgrims Country Day.  Whatever happened next—Yale or Dartmouth, the future unfolding—would stem directly from the choice made on Mercy Street.  For Hannah R., every door remained open.  Her life was entirely her own.  (178)

While the words “choice”, “it”, and procedure” have a long history in anti-life writing to refer to abortion, this novel offers some unique and verbose euphemisms which the pro-life world should note as linguistic attempts to hide the brutality of abortion.  A “visit to the [abortion] clinic” is not like visiting Grandma for her homemade ricotta cookies.  “Youthful mistake” (that is, killing an unborn child in an abortion) is not like the youthful indiscretion of dancing to a disco song on your car hood while slightly inebriated.  While using white-out to erase a digit error in one’s checking account register may be something which needs to be “corrected”, an abortion corrects nothing because becoming pregnant and safeguarding human life in the womb are not errors.

          Another distortion pro-abortion characters use to hide the always-negative connotation of “abortion” involves layers of ambiguous linguistic camouflage for teenagers who get a judicial bypass abortion.  The author compares it to “permission to do as she wished with her one and only life” (28).  “Permission”?  “As she wished”?  “Her one and only life”?  These phrases require an extensive unpacking which would make this review more lugubrious than it already is.

          Moreover, any educated reader must note how pro-abortion characters lack or ignore the science on which the pro-life movement is based.  This is evident, for example, when Claudia imagines herself in a video countering what a pro-life protester says about abortion and breast cancer: “Just so you know, there is no connection at all between abortion and breast cancer” (98; italics in original).  That the author/narrator felt compelled to emphasize this falsity in italics heightens either the zealotry or the willful ignorance of the pro-abortion main character.

5.  When they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective?

          Finally, the characters in Haigh’s novel are just like every other abortion novel: if not openly irreligious, then they are simply ignorant.  They’re dumb as dirt when it comes to the smallest particulars of faith, let alone the wider concerns of religion.  For example, Claudia is terribly ignorant of a prayer which is common knowledge.  “Hail Mary, full of grace.  There was more to the prayer, but Claudia had never learned it.  She understood the words only in football terms, the doomed audacity of the long-distance pass” (283; italics in original).  To be fair, even the “pro-life” characters are irreligious.  Victor Prine, the racist whom the narrator/author identifies as a pro-life protestor, thinks that people have faith because they are senseless: “The prison chaplain had caught him at a vulnerable moment.  Later Victor would come to his senses, but at the time it felt real to him.  He had wanted so badly to believe” (197).

          Furthermore, Claudia “had no experience with religious people” (8-9).  This lack of experience with people who have a radically different worldview from hers may account for her (or perhaps the author’s) ignorance throughout the novel.  For example, Victor Prine is a pro-life activist, albeit one who is racist against African Americans, who engages in only one legitimate pro-life activity (distributing pro-life signs along his trucking routes) and one shady if not illegal activity (posting photos of mothers going into abortion clinics on his website).  It’s interesting, therefore, that the author only focuses on pro-life protesters.  She is apparently ignorant of other forms of pro-life activity: enacting protective legislation, composing pro-life songs, assisting mothers with untimely pregnancies by operating free crisis pregnancy centers (one such crisis pregnancy center discussed in the novel is dismissed as an entity which “existed for one reason only: to trick women out of getting abortions.  The place was a fraud” [203]), or even writing pro-life book reviews of pro-abortion novels.

          Makes you wonder if Haigh has any pro-life friends or if she is encased in the anti-life world of virulently pro-abortion New York editors and publishing houses.

          But I digress.

          There is one shining example of a crack in Claudia’s anti-life monolith, however.  Claudia actually speaks kindly of a pro-life protestor named Puffy on one page (174) and then asks two questions about his pro-life witness later in the novel.  Claudia “thought of Puffy, who showed up at the clinic each morning to do absolutely nothing.  How could he stand it?  What, exactly, kept him coming back?” ([229]-30).  Answering these two questions could destroy her pro-abortion mindset.

While Haigh’s work need not be purchased, pro-life readers who would like to examine it in detail can always obtain a copy from their local libraries, thus saving their money for donations to pregnancy support groups.

Book reviews

Katixa Agirre’s Mothers Don’t (translated by Katie Whittemore, Open Letter, 2022; first published in 2018)

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Agirre’s work may be cancelled or banned for not repeating the usual feminist claptrap about “post-birth abortion”, “fourth trimester abortion”, or some other euphemism for killing newborn babies, so read it now.

This novel, therefore, can be illuminating for the pro-life reader, someone who may not be familiar with the push to legalize infanticide as a logical extension of the pro-abortion movement.  After all, if an unborn baby is merely property of the mother and is unwanted, then why should that child be allowed to live after his or her birth?

Fortunately, instead of being a preachy work that attempts to pass itself off as fiction (like, for example, Heather Marshall’s Looking for Jane [Atria Books, 2022], which I recently reviewed, which is more a propaganda piece than a work of fiction), Agirre’s 161 pages constitute a well-constructed work of fiction, examining the case of a mother who drowned her twins in a bathtub.

The novel is much more than that, however.  Agirre’s narrator is herself a mother who had just delivered her newborn son, so she can identify with the infanticidal mother’s postpartum depression, boredom with the ennui of motherhood, and possible psychosis.  The narrator is able to understand, perhaps resolve, the conflicts in her own life as she is trying to understand how any mother could kill her own children, and the conflicts the narrator experiences are profound, as every new mother knows.  She describes the effect of her new status as a mother on her being thus: “my identity as a mother had devoured all other identities and banished all my other selves into exile” (22).

Despite these conflicts, the narrator utters several profound life-affirming statements against infanticide, which pro-life feminists will appreciate.  For example, the narrator reflects on how the word “infanticide” is euphemistically replaced by “the acts” during the infanticidal mother’s trial (37).  She talks about how “it’s easy to kill a child.  They’re small, weak” (89).  All of chapter 1, titled “Killing Children”, in Part II gives a brief, often ironic history of infanticide (89-97), ironic as in the following sample: “If abortion demands action (be it turpentine or a rusty, unsterilized hanger to the uterus), infanticide only requires omission.  Don’t keep it warm, don’t feed it or care for it, abandon it in a forest, lock it in a closet, forget you put it there.  Done” (89; italics in original).

Moreover, since she is a writer who has been awarded for her work, the narrator delves into the infanticide case as an interesting venue for her to write her own emotions and experiences with love, becoming pregnant, being tired and (often) bored with motherly activities, and other matters.  The work, then, represents reality and is neither a saccharine view of motherhood as pure joy nor the drudgery warranting killing the unborn child in abortion or the born child in infanticide.

The narrative maintains dramatic tension throughout the easy-to-read chapters, and the concluding paragraph, which contains the narrator’s respect for the killed twins, reads remarkably like a credo of a pro-life feminist writer:

Everything I did, I did for me.  Following an impulse down to the last comma.  But I want to think that, to a certain extent, I also did it for them.  An acknowledgement or offering, a taste of all they were denied, a little tenderness—at least in memory—for those twins who were probably perfect too.  I am life, after all.  And at the end of the day, I try to beat back death.  (161)

That the narrator concludes the work by expressing this pro-life philosophy is particularly noteworthy since she never manifests a religious faith on which her life-affirming principles could be grounded.  The reader should conclude that, if a secular person can arrive at such life-affirming statements, then supporting the right to life of newborn babies should be much easier for religious persons.

Recommended for students of infanticide literature and activists who see the killing of the newborn as a growing threat from pro-abortion feminist zealots.

Book reviews

Heather Marshall’s Looking for Jane (Atria Books, 2022)

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What would have been a great story about a child conceived from rape being reunited with her birth mother is reduced to pro-abortion propaganda with a needless lesbian twist.

Despite this catastrophic flaw, while it is a propaganda piece more than a work of fiction, Marshall’s work can be used by the worldwide pro-life movement to support pro-life feminists in their fight against abortion and other life-destroying activities.

For example, Marshall’s propaganda effort claims that pregnancy resulting from “circumstances like rape or incest” are “often horrific”, yet the author is blissfully (or ironically) unaware that one of her two main characters, Nancy, is a grown woman who was once an unborn child conceived from the rape of her mother.  Nancy escaped being killed for the crime of her father because abortion was illegal in Canada when she was born and because Nancy’s grandparents brought her mother to a home for unwed mothers negatively described as “just one big well-oiled machine” (84).

Another major irony in Marshall’s depiction of life-denying abortion propaganda is that Evelyn Taylor, an abortionist in the network of clandestine abortionists called the Janes, aborted her own grandchild.  The mother who comes to her for the purpose of killing the unborn child is, unbeknownst to her, her own daughter Nancy.  Evelyn will eventually realize—ten pages from the end of this verbose work—that she performed an abortion on her daughter, but never acknowledges the fact that she killed her own grandchild.

The 372 pages which constitute this apologia for abortion wrongs has several problems, four of which are significant.  First, having two main characters as married lesbians who undergo artificial insemination is worthless as character attributes.  In fact, having Angela and Tina in a committed relationship, albeit a distorted lesbian one, seeking to have children, although in a disordered manner, undercuts the author’s obvious leftist and woke philosophy.  (Marshall twice uses the phrases “pregnant person” once and “women and pregnant people” twice in her “Author’s Note”, a clear sign that she adopts the woke distortion of science which asserts that biological males can become pregnant; see pages 379-81.)  If anything, these lesbian characters support heterosexual normativity since their “marriage” leads to the happy event of children, which is the desired result of the sexual pleasure enjoyed by every heterosexual marriage.

A second serious problem of this abortion diatribe is that many characters are flat and function as allegories more than representations of real human beings.  The nun who ran the home for unwed mothers where the future abortionist Evelyn gave her child up for adoption is depicted as pure evil, derisively called “The Watchdog” throughout.  No human character can ever be pure evil as Satan, not even the American criminals Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden or (to honor Marshall’s setting) the Canadian abortion zealot Justin Trudeau.  Similarly, Canada’s abortion activist Henry Morgentaler is treated like a hero or a saint instead of the killer that he was (cf. 129-30).

A possible exception to this objection, however, is that Nancy may have round character traits when she realizes that post-abortion syndrome (PAS) contributed to a significant failure in her life: the secret of her adoption, her clandestine work for the Janes, and hiding her abortion from her husband are reasons for her eventual divorce.  Pro-life sociologists have documented the effects of PAS on women for decades, and it’s good that Marshall depicts a woman suffering from that psychological disorder because of her pro-abortion activity.

A third problem of this sometimes tedious attempt to enshrine abortion concepts in the reader’s mind is that anti-life slogans interfere with the story, which is essentially the effort of a birth mother to find her daughter.  For example, characters offer the usual claptrap that abortion is “just like any other surgery or treatment” (118) or ask the flaccid rhetorical question “Yet aren’t fertility clinics and abortion clinics just two sides of the same coin?” (119).

Worse, the characters perpetuate the philosophical error of thinking that mothers have no choice when faced with an untimely pregnancy besides abortion.  For example, Nancy thinks that abortion is necessary: “But you have to do this, she tells herself” (183; italics in original).  She thinks that having an abortion is “the keystone of her future” and that “abortion is the first step to setting herself back on track” (183).

This mantra of “choice” interrupts the narrative often.  Regarding her working with the Janes, Nancy “revels in the knowledge that she’s helping other women gain power over their own lives” (232-3) and that abortionists are “all about choice” (286).  Even the tired and dated slogan used by abortion businesses (like Planned Parenthood) is trotted out to prop up the choice element: “Every child a wanted child, every mother a willing mother” (305; italics in original).

What a terribly sad narrative of terribly sad women who think that harming themselves in abortion, killing the unborn babies whom they are carrying, and alienating the fathers of the unborn children are the only “choices” they have.

A final problem of Marshall’s narrative is that it completely ignores efforts by pro-life pregnancy support groups to meet the need that Canadian women had for assistance with their untimely pregnancies.  Marshall’s chronologically-shifting work is set in Toronto from the 1970s onward, so it is either pure ignorance or abortion propaganda on the author’s part to omit the moral and material support that the pro-life organization Birthright, founded in the metropolitan Toronto area in 1968, began offering to women facing untimely pregnancies.

But then, pro-abortion writers must often disregard pro-life history since pro-life groups like Birthright assist the mother and the unborn child.  All an abortionist can do is kill one and harm the other.

Despite these serious flaws, pro-life activists can use Marshall’s myopic view of Canadian abortion history to advance life-affirming principles.

For example, although the reader must consider the source (an author who has completely bought into the pro-abortion and woke nonsense), Marshall apparently does not realize that she uses the same reasoning to support abortion that slaveholders used to justify the subjugation of African human beings: property rights.  An interesting passage from the “Author’s Note” makes this clear: “it [the unborn child] still resided inside my body.  /  My.  Body” ([373]-4; italics in original).  Thus, the support for abortion among woke activists and anti-life feminists is extremely tenuous if they must rely on a legal concept (slavery) which is abhorrent to the world.

Moreover, the five questions of right-to-life literary theory can be applied to show the vapidity of Marshall’s work.  For example, regarding the first question of right-to-life literary theory (whether the literary work supports the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some “thing” which is priceless is clear): it doesn’t.  The only philosophical value that Marshall endorses repeatedly, ad nauseam, is the ambiguous “choice”—not the choice of free will or the ability to choose spumoni over chocolate ice cream, but an outdated legal opinion of a now defunct Roe v. Wade decision that allowed some mothers to kill unborn babies because those unique human beings were considered mere property of their mothers, like a purse or a car.

The second question of right-to-life literary theory (whether the literary work respects the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life) is just as easily answered: nyet again!  It is only the life of the woman who is superior to the life of the man or the life of the unborn child who is gendered either male or female.  That pro-abortion persons cannot perceive this distortion of equality between the sexes is remarkable, given all their assertions of equality throughout the last half century.  Thus, pro-life readers can point to Marshall’s polemic as evidence that it isn’t equality that pro-abortion feminists want for women, but dominance over men.

The third question of right-to-life literary theory (whether the literary work respects heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family) can be answered affirmatively, if only because of contrast.  The desire of the lesbian “married” couple to have a successful artificial insemination of an unborn child reinforces the heterosexual normativity which their abuse of the marriage covenant implies.  If the lesbians were genuinely opposed to heterosexual normativity, then they would not seek marriage (a heterosexual practice) and would not seek to have a child (the result of a heterosexual union).

The fourth question of right-to-life literary theory (whether the literary work comports with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist) is obvious: the characters conclude that abortion is not merely a choice, but a right that women have to kill.

Finally, regarding the fifth question of right-to-life literary theory (when they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective), the reader becomes painfully aware that these pro-abortion characters live carpe diem lives.  Evelyn is explicit in her rejection of religious concepts; she “hasn’t believed in any kind of god for decades now, and she doesn’t subscribe to the concept of fate.  Life is simply too cruel for those things to exist” (368).  The other pro-abortion characters, however, are blissfully unaware of any other force in the universe besides their own impersonal adherence to the nebulous idea of “choice”; the ancient universals of beauty, goodness, and truth are absent as philosophical notions which could guide their irreligious, secular lives.

While Marshall’s work need not be purchased (after all, why would anybody spend his or her pro-life dollars on a literary work whose author funds leftist and woke groups?), pro-life readers who would like to examine it in detail can always obtain a copy from their local libraries, thus saving their money for donations to pregnancy support groups.

But then, I read it so that you don’t have to.

Book reviews

George Gmitro’s Equality@Big Cypress (Viable Press, 2023)

Whether fighting slavery or its modern equivalent (abortion), Gmitro’s novel set in antebellum America illustrates the courage needed to effect social change.

The second in a series of three novels concerned with the prosecution of a young man who saved the life of his unborn child in an unorthodox way, Equality@Big Cypress provides a substantial backstory to account for why the protagonist of the first volume would have engaged in such a daring effort to save the life of that unborn child and the mother from abortion.

The controlling theme connecting both volumes is, unquestionably, courage: courage that Lance Strickland took in saving his unborn child in volume one, and courage that his predecessor, Wyatt Striklynn, took in helping three beloved slaves escape from members of his own family who were slaveowners in the antebellum American South in volume two.

The topic of the first volume in the series (Viable@140) concerned abortion and the mother’s now debunked “right” to kill the unborn child whom she might carry.  This second volume in the Write for Life series pursues other topics.  Pro-life activists have long compared abortion with slavery, as Dr. Jack Willke explained in his 1984 nonfiction work Slavery and Abortion: History Repeats.  In that nonfiction work, Willke argued that abortion is similar to slavery, which dehumanized the born person of African descent as much as abortion dehumanizes the unborn person of any race.

Gmitro’s novel can be considered a literary exploration of Willke’s claim from forty years ago.  While it was a central topic in the first volume in the series, abortion does not appear at all in this subsequent volume, yet the parallels between the unborn child deprived of his or her right to life and African slaves deprived of their right to live is inescapable.

Contemporary students may especially find it challenging to examine how it could have been possible that born human beings of one race could ever have thought that slaves—who, unlike unborn children hidden in the womb, were visible people—were considered less than human and therefore could be legally considered property.  Since the status of the slaves parallels the dehumanization of today’s abortion movement, Gmitro’s novel will disturb the radical minority of readers who support abortion, but regale others who celebrate that the faulty and now-defunct Roe v. Wade legal decision (which disordered the family relationships of father, mother, and unborn child) has been thrown into the dustbin of history.

A third-person omniscient narrative throughout, the structure of the narrative is as fast moving as a Mary Higgins Clark mystery.  Comprised of 133 chapters and a prologue and epilogue, each chapter of the 486-page novel averages less than four pages.  Most chapters end with a tease, a hook that persuades the reader to continue reading.  Each chapter shifts the action from various geographic locations (the west coast of Africa; South Carolina; Washington, DC; and others), but the shift in setting does not disturb the reader’s understanding of the plot.

In fact, the constant shifts in action in the various regions help the reader understand that the obtaining of African slaves (sold to European traders by African tribes) contributes to the description of what happens to those slaves when they reach South Carolina, for example, which then leads into what the Buchanan presidency must consider when one of the Democratic Party’s senators is caught in illegal transatlantic slave trading.

The action-packed writing style easily justifies the claim that the novel can be leisurely read in one or two days.  There are, however, significant drawbacks in the composition of the volume, mostly numerous punctuation and grammar errors, which, while not impeding the comprehension of the narrative, not only makes the reading choppy (since the reader must correct the errors him- or herself), but also casts doubt on the quality of the editorial staff reviewing the manuscript or (worse) the author himself.  It is hoped that future editions will correct these many errors to improve the quality of the volume.

Despite these drawbacks, I recommend Gmitro’s novel for high school and college students (especially those involved in social movements comparing the history of slavery and abortion) and contemporary social justice activists (especially those who fight against the woke distortion of Judeo-Christian social justice, such as the racist group Black Lives Matter and the violently pro-abortion Democratic Party).

Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, buy this book directly from the publisher:

Book reviews

Joshua Hren’s How to Read (and Write) Like a Catholic (TAN Books, 2021)

Written in a high register of literary technical vocabulary which PhD students taught by leftist professors in English would understand more than the average man or woman, Hren’s collection of essays is still worthwhile as substantial reading to understand the idiocy of much contemporary fiction.

Although the 463 pages contain few mentions of fictional literature concerned with the pro-life issues (my central research concern), Hren’s essays can help readers who are forced to suffer through LGBTQ and transgender accounts of quasi-fictional gender dysphoric literary diarrhea.  Moreover, readers will appreciate that the bizarre, sinful, and often laughable elements of those two categories of fiction (among others in the leftist realm of American publishing) are topics which Catholic readers must analyze, evaluate, and even teach.

Hren relies heavily on major Catholic saints and literary figures to justify why not only Catholics, but even secular persons should read novels exploring ideas contrary to ingrained natural law beliefs, including Dana Gioia, Jacques Maritain, St. John Henry Newman, and Flannery O’Connor.

For example, Hren quotes St. John Henry Newman often: “literature is largely a record ‘of man in rebellion’” (2; internal quotes in original), and another quote soon after expands on this idea: “You cannot have a sinless literature of sinful man” (4-5).  With such assertions, it is easy for Hren to conclude that “Catholic thinkers should and even must analyze and teach, appreciate and criticize the sinful literature of man.  Why?  Because most men are not destined for the cloister” (5).  The most significant words from Newman for Catholic writers which Hren quotes may be the following: “Take things as they are, not as you could wish them” (29).

O’Connor’s words about writing fiction can assuage the horror that many moral and righteous readers may feel when they delve into novels deemed important new works by young authors, but which to them seem not merely naughty, but often outright pornographic.  Hren cites O’Connor’s “pious trash” (33) comment, and one can understand how many “religious” novels are often boring, making their hero characters flaccid caricatures or allegories instead of fictional characters meant to represent living human beings.  This is especially true if the “good” characters end the novel with a “come to Jesus” moment, Evangelical Christian fiction being particularly disposed to resolve plot conflicts with such a righteous yet saccharine denouement.

On these bases, for example, the good priest’s famous (for me), infamous (for some) masturbation scene in Brian Moore’s novel Black Robe as he witnesses coitus by two youths is justified.  Whether a reader delights in the prurience of the scene or not is something which he or she should consult with his or her priest in the confessional.  For me, Moore’s novel goes beyond pornography to bring my attention to God’s deeper truths about not only sexual sins, but also sexual delights which should obtain between a married man and woman (since they are unmarried, the young people are committing the sin of fornication).  While it’s odd that Hren doesn’t cite Moore’s novel as a solid example of Catholic fiction which depicts challenging matters, perhaps a future edition will include this novel and others.

Hren does, however, examine works by many twentieth- and twenty-first century authors, Catholic all (whether devout, lukewarm, or fallen-away), and his criticism of the various works can overwhelm readers with a literary load that seems insurmountable.  Reading Evelyn Waugh’s Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future (which concerns euthanasia); Katherine Anne Porter, a “sometimes-Catholic writer” (133); David Foster Wallace, who “took his own life in 2008” (139); James Joyce, whose work includes short stories about altar boys most likely molested by priests—a topic considered long before the current pedophile and pederast scandals; Walter M. Miller, another suicide, whose major work, A Canticle for Leibowitz, examines euthanasia; Christopher Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder, which also contains a euthanasia element; and Michael Chabon’s short story about abortion may seem suitable only for those lucky English professors who achieved early retirement ten years ago and have time to sit back, crack open a book from interlibrary loan that no one reads, and annotate at his or her leisure.  (Ahem!).  Hren, however, thinks we all should read these works to show the great expanse of Catholic fiction.

And why we should read such works is answered well.  Hren argues that “Good fiction helps us better grasp the fact that everything we deliberately do—from amusements to our acts of mercy—assumes moral significance” (2).  Thus, “we ought not dismiss or underappreciate the importance of well-rendered sin in good literature” (4)—the phrase “well-rendered” not being ironic.

Hren further claims that the purpose of Catholic fiction differs greatly from a purely secular understanding of the art.  If “the Catholic literary tradition has been marked by writers who understood that human nature finds its final cause not in mere beauty, not in mere inclusion, but in salvation” (48), then, he states, “a Catholic literary culture that works in continuity with its rich heritage will give us a contemporary literature that both gazes unflinchingly at the messiness of our present moment and artfully works out its characters’ salvation or damnation” (48).  This conclusion is necessary because “Christian love is never aimed at the neighbor in-and-of-herself, but at the Imago Dei that is found in every human being” (199).

To bolster his conclusion, Hren quotes Dana Gioia at length about a “Catholic aesthetic”:

Catholic writers tend to see humanity struggling in a fallen world.  They combine a longing for grace and redemption with a deep sense of human imperfection and sin.  Evil exists, but the physical world is not evil.  Nature is sacramental, shimmering with signs of sacred things.  Indeed, all reality is mysteriously charged with the invisible presence of God.  Catholics perceive suffering as redemptive, at least when borne in emulation of Christ’s passion and death.  (342)

Unfortunately, the volume does not have an index, so the reader must guess that the various chapters may contain what he or she is seeking.  Sometimes, the content of a chapter is obvious; sometimes, chapter contents are ambiguous from the title.  The volume does contain two reading lists which can help the reader, whether faculty member or student, check off those items which Hren suggests as required reading to appreciate the depth of contemporary Catholic fiction.

Finally, since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life material, purchase this book from TAN Publishers directly:  Instead of paying $34.95, purchasing it from TAN through its $5 a book program makes this scholarly tome a deal.