America’s Moral Landscape in the Fiction of Richard Ford

Article by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.

I discovered Richard Ford while looking for a novel to accompany Tocqueville, Habits of the Heart, and the travel narratives of Jonathan Raban and William Least Heat Moon in a course on American character. I sought one that would help illuminate the moral consciousness of America in the ‘80s, a nation bogged down and hemmed …

Among the Lilies

Article by James M. Wall

For the Reverend Clarence Arthur Wilmot, the loss of faith was accompanied by a distinct sensation: "a visceral surrender, a set of dark sparkling bubbles escaping upward." The Presbyterian minister "was standing, at the moment of the ruinous pang, on the first floor of the rectory, wondering if in view of the heat he might …

Are There Things a Novelist Shouldn’t Joke About?: An Interview with Kurt Vonnegut

Article by Harry James Cargas

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., first gained a following on American college campuses as a cult figure for young readers who identified with his comic and pessimistic view of the world. In recent years a wider audience has come to know his books — Player Piano; Cat’s Cradle; Slaughterhouse-Five; Sirens of Titan; Mother Night; God Bless …

Auden’ s Moral Comedy: A Late-Winter Reading

Article by William F. French

The trouble with W. H. Auden’s poem For the Time Being is that in subtitling it “A Christmas Oratorio,” Auden condemned it to being treated primarily as an inspirational holiday ritual — akin to watching “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” on television with the kids or spiking the eggnog. A hurried Christmas reading tends to misconstrue Auden’s …

Bellow’s Gift

Article by Paul Elmen

The Nobel Prize is only the latest honor for Saul Bellow, who has already won three National Book Awards and so now becomes the most rewarded American novelist, as he has long been the most rewarding. The Stockholm committee said that he deserved the award “for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture …

Beware of the Scribes

Article by Peter B. Rodgers

A review of Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. The book reviewed gives a thorough introduction to New Testament textual analysis. It challenges the reviewer to do research in biblical criticism. Book Review: Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman. HarperSanFrancisco, 256 …

Brideshead Revisited: A Twitch Upon the Thread

Article by Paul Elmen

The recently completed 11-and-one-half-hour Public Broadcasting System series based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited proved a smash hit. Across the country bridge parties and pancake suppers were rescheduled so as not to compete with Charles Ryder’s memories. Americans beginning to feel Poverty her Pinch have thought it great indoor sport to watch plover eggs …

Control as Original Sin

Article by James M. Wall

It isn’t until several days after the accident that Lottie lets herself—makes herself—think about it. Think about how it was for all of them, for Cameron and Elizabeth, and for Jessica." The opening paragraph of Sue Miller’s novel For Love hints at the answer to the novel’s central question: "Where are the 20th-century love stories?" …

Flesh Becomes Word: The Incarnational Poetry of Scott Cairns

Article by Jeff Gundy

From Baptist to Presbyterian to Orthodox — that’s hardly a conventional trajectory for an American Christian. Even less usual, perhaps, than claiming to be a Christian poet, or being summarily unhired from a Christian university because a single poem was deemed unsuitable by the administration. But Scott Cairns has never managed to he typical. One …

God as Best Seller

Article by Lois Malcolm

A walk down the aisle of any major bookstore reveals that spirituality sells, and that spirituality is not confined to the “religion” or “Christian inspiration” sections. Diverse though the literature on spirituality is, a body of popular teachings about God — and how we might experience God — is emerging within it. If the civil …

Hints of Redemption

Article by Jill P. Baumgaertner

Books Reviewed: Ghost Pain. By Sydney Lea. Sarabande Books, 99 pages paperback. Deaths and Transfigurations. By Paul Mariani. Paraclete, 95 pp. Poetry reviews appear in religious journals more rarely than poems, and poems are rare enough. This absence is not because poetry of interest to readers of these journals is in short supply. It is …

James Reston: Prophet of American Civil Religion

Article by Leo Sandon, Jr.

Since the initial publication of Robert N. Bellah’s widely reprinted 1967 essay on “Civil Religion in America,” theologians, historians and sociologists have given much attention to the phenomenon Bellah described. In that influential article Bellah argued “that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well institutionalized civil …

Liberation from Illusion

Article by Diogenes Allen

Though Simone Weil (1909-43) is read by many people from a wide variety of backgrounds and with a wide variety of interests, she remains a marginal figure in the world of theology. This is especially strange considering the large amount of attention theology gives these days to social and political issues and Weil’s own passionate, …

Moral Ambiguities and the Crime Novels of P.D. James

Article by Patricia A Ward

The writer P. D. James is now receiving recognition for her contribution to the transformation of the traditional English detective story. James herself prefers to call the genre the “crime novel,” for she is concerned with much more than the writing of escapist thrillers. In an interview several years ago she discussed the conventions of …

Mystery Women

Article by Betty Smartt Carter

Book Review: Crooked Heart. By Cristina Sumners. Bantam, 336 pp., paperback. The Book of Light. By Michelle Blake. Prime Crime, 304 pp., paperback. Out of the Deep I Cry. By Julia Spencer-Fleming. St. Martin Minotaur, 304 pp. In the shadowy world of the mystery novel, nothing is ever quite what it appears to be, including …

Notions of Purity: An Interview with Mary Gordon

Article by Trudy Bush

One of America’s most admired writers, Mary Cordon writes about women’s choices and about moral and spiritual struggles in the context of strong family connections. She has a deeply Catholic perspective, though not exactly an orthodox one, Her novels include Final Payments (1978), The Company of Women (1981), Men and Angels (1985) and Spending (1998). …

Pym’s Cup

Article by Jean Caffey Lyles

Some day an earnest young scholar in pursuit of a suitably narrow research topic may turn to the works of British writer Barbara Pym and compile an exhaustive index of the occasions when pots of tea are brewed and consumed in her 11 novels. Such a project might well have appealed to Pym’s own sense …

Rabbit Runs Down

Article by Ralph C. Wood

Book Review: Rabbit at Rest. By John Updike. Knopf, 512 pp., $21.95. It is tempting to thank John Updike, if not also God, for relieving our misery by putting Rabbit Angstrom out of his. The final installment of Updike’s tetralogy takes Angstrom to his fated end, and it is no giveaway of the plot to …

T. S. Eliot’s Christian Society: Still Relevant Today?

Article by Philip Yancey

The intellectual world of the 1920s was treated to a delicious irony. A pioneer of the modernist movement, T. S. Eliot, known for his fragmented, elusive poetry, became, in his own words, a "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion." The author of The Waste Land, that obscure work of dark despair, …

The God of Narnia

Article by Ralph C. Wood

The seven books of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicle, which sell 6 million copies annually, are being filmed by Walden Media, a subsidiary of Walt Disney Pictures. Disney has spent $150 million (plus millions more for advertising) on the first episode, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the much-beloved story of the four Pevensie …

The Grapes of Wrath Fifty Years Later

Article by John H. Timmerman

In celebration of this anniversary the Steinbeck Research Center of San Jose State University will sponsor a conference exploring the novel from every conceivable angle — sociological, political, historical and literary. The University of Alabama’s prestigious Literary Symposia series will this year focus on “The Steinbeck Question.” Dozens of other enterprises have developed, including several …

The Marrying, Burying World of J. F. Powers

Article by Matthew Giunti

The figure of the priest is nearly irresistible to some fiction writers. As a living exemplar of Christ on Earth, he is already halfway to being a symbol. Thus novelists have portrayed censorious, unforgiving priests to demonstrate the gap between the church and genuine Christianity; repressed, neurotic priests to demonstrate the unhealthiness of the celibate …

The Thanatos Syndrome: Exciting, Horrifying, Disappointing

Article by Ralph C. Wood

Book Review: The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy (Farrar Straus Giroux, 372 pp., $17.95) Walker Percy’s sixth novel, The Thanatos Syndrome (Farrar Straus Giroux, 372 PP., $17.95) , is at once his most thrilling and most disappointing book. The last three sections of the novel are so excitingly plotted that the reader is kept in …

The Theater of Revelation: Art and the Grace-Fullness of Form

Article by Judith Rock

Because our religious tradition finds the heart of divine revelation in the Holy taking human form, Christians have a powerful theological basis for understanding and learning from the arts. Unfortunately, Protestants have historically had an uneasy relationship with the arts because we have mistrusted form and physicality. Our inheritance of Reformation iconoclasm is usually put …

To Be Accurate and Blunt: The Activist as Writer

Article by Harry James Cargas

PHILIP BERRIGAN, former priest of the Josephite Order, and a member of the group of draft-record-burners known as the Catonsville Nine, now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Having served a number of prison sentences, Berrigan, with his wife, the former Sister Elizabeth McAllister, has formed a small community of eight adults (and the two Berrigan children) …

Transforming Vision: Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston

Article by Trudy Bush

More than a decade after Zora Neale Hurston died penniless in a Florida welfare home, Alice Walker made a pilgrimage to the town where the anthropologist and novelist had lived, and placed a monument on her unmarked grave. Posing as a niece of the all-but-forgotten writer, Walker gathered what information she could about Hurston’s youth …

Walker Percy as Satirist: Christian and Humanist Still in Conflict

Article by Ralph C. Wood

Walker Percy has taught me more about the human condition in the 20th century than virtually any other writer. It was through reading his works that I was first stirred from my religious slumbers and made aware of the unconscious despair that holds our culture in a veritable death grip. I discovered, however, that Percy’s …