Faith by Jennifer Haigh

This is a book that kept me mesmerized through all of last weekend, but I am having the hardest time writing about it! Does anyone else find that the books you truly admired and enjoyed leave you speechless?

Faith is narrated by Sheila McGann, a thirty-something teacher who is determined to tell the full story of her brother Art’s downfall. Art, Father Breen, is a priest in the Catholic church who has been accused of child molestation. The novel is set during the early part of the century when accusations against priests were raging and the church was struggling with how to react. In Father Art’s case the church authorities decide to pay off the family who has made the accusation. Sheila is initially incensed at the idea, but secretly wonders if her brother could really be guilty.

My initial sense of the book was an immediate identification with Sheila. She is an intelligent, likeable and reliable narrator. Her telling of the story encompasses the story of her family, their relationships and their history. Without this nothing that happens later to Father Breen would make sense. The reader is swept along the stormy path of their family story. Not all of the characters are as likeable as Sheila, but Haigh makes them all relate-able.

Not only is faith in religion examined, but faith in family, in authority, in individual decisions as we witness the tragic story of Father Breen. He is an enigmatic character at the center of the novel and, though accused of monstrous acts, sympathetic and charismatic.

I loved this novel because it gives no easy answers. It makes the reader think about the stories behind the headlines and shows that people are more complex than we choose to believe sometimes. I am a fan of character studies and novels that explore motives and the reasons behind actions. If you too enjoy character-driven stories, you will enjoy Faith.

(I’ll be numbering my books read from now on as part of the 52-52-52 challenge)