Fatherless, a Novel, by Brian J. Gail
Second Edition published 2009
by One More Soul
One More Soul, the publisher of Fatherless, describes itself as a “non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the truth about the blessings of children and the harms of contraception.” As an NFP teacher, an avid reader, and the author of two Catholic novels which promote the Church’s teachings on life, marriage and NFP, I had eagerly anticipated reading this book.
The title of the book, Fatherless, is especially appropriate and it speaks so clearly to the importance of priestly or spiritual fatherhood. This novel also illustrates the essential role of fathers being physically present to their children, as well as being strong examples in character and virtue.
The setting is 1980’s Philadelphia, an area familiar to me because I grew up in Southern New Jersey and lived in Philadelphia for a short time. There are numerous plot lines and even more characters, which are well-developed but far from ideal, or virtue-driven, Catholics. The main character, Fr. John Sweeney, is an affable, down to earth, well-intentioned young priest who, at the beginning of the novel, is more concerned about being accepted and liked than telling his parishioners the “hard sayings.”
It is also about two men who are modern day Davids fighting against Goliath companies. Michael works for a marketing company which promotes a cable channel which shows soft porn and non-family friendly movies. Joe works for a pharmaceutical company and discovers a secret file regarding the history of oral contraceptives, then must decide whether he’s going to bring his discovery to the local newspaper.
Other characters include Maggie, the mother of six children who suffers from debilitating migraine headaches and, buckling under the pressures of her physical suffering (and receiving poor counseling from Fr. John) decides to disobey church teaching and eventually pays with significant physical, marital and spiritual consequences. Maggie’s oldest daughter, Moia, has a mental disorder. Maggie’s husband, Bill, faced with his own work and family pressures, also consciously decides to turn away from his faith and his family.
After Fr. John experiences a profound spiritual conversion in Rome, he returns home to his parish and gives an outstanding homily I wish every Catholic priest in the world would preach to his parishioners at least once. “The hard sayings” are not things that most Catholics wish to hear. Most Catholics in the pews every week do not want to hear that contraception is immoral and a serious sin. They do not want to hear that living together before marriage is wrong. They do not want to hear that the Pill is an abortifacient and increases the risk of breast cancer.
This was a challenging read mostly because the novel presents us with such dark situations: adultery, poor counsel by priests, consequences of contraception, priest sex abuse, possession and exorcism, mental illness, suicide, depression etc. Just about every kind of sin makes an appearance in this book.
This is not a “light” read, nor is this the sort of book in which “everyone will live happily ever after.”
That being said, I applaud the author for tackling some very real, timely and important issues in a novel which often reads more like a non-fiction book. He has a natural writing talent which has me hoping that he will write more novels.
Although these characters are fictional, Brian Gail gives us a surprisingly realistic look into the lives of everyday Catholics. He brilliantly shows the consequences of Catholics living the faith by their own rules and “consciences” and not living according to the laws of the Church.
There were a few anachronisms and some minor typos, but overall the author did an excellent job researching the information.
I understand what the author and publisher were trying to accomplish with this novel and I think they succeeded in many respects. Anyone who reads this book can only come away with increased awareness of why so many Catholics have turned away from faithful church teaching.
I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wishes to read an interesting and compelling story, but also to understand why so many Catholics have ignored the Church’s teachings on sexuality and marriage and why obedience on these matters is so important. Because of the mature themes, I would recommend this book for ages 16 and up.
Copyright 2010 Ellen Gable Hrkach