Father Urban turned 60 final 12 months. Which is to say that 2022 introduced the 60th anniversary of publication of J.F. Powers’ 1962 novel a couple of priest, Morte d’Urban. A 12 months later the e book acquired the celebrated National Book Award for fiction.
By the measure of literary prizes, that was actually a golden age for American Catholic fiction. Besides Urban, the listing contains: Edwin O’Connor’s The Edge of Sadness,, a novel about priestly life and the complexities of relationships in Irish-American households, Pulitzer Prize in 1962; Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, existentialist anomie set in opposition to the background of New Orleans at Mardi Gras, National Book Award in 1962; and (posthumously) Flannery O’Connor’s collected brief tales, Southern Gothic morality tales leavened with Thomistic theology, National Book Award in 1972.
Reputation-wise, Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor—particularly she—are nonetheless going robust, Edwin O’Connor has—sadly—largely sunk from view, whereas such consideration as Powers nonetheless receives is due largely to New York Review of Books Classics, a publishing line that has stored his restricted literary output in print.
In his day, Powers was greatest identified for New Yorker-style brief tales, amongst them minor classics like Lions, Harts, and Leaping Does and The Presence of Grace. His second novel, Wheat That Springeth Green, showing 26 years after Urban, has stretches of the previous brilliance, however falls flat on the entire. That leaves Morte d’Urban—and it’s a dandy.
The title is a whimsical reference to Morte d’Arthur, a 15th century compilation of tales about King Arthur and his knights by Sir Thomas Malory, and components of the novel are loosely patterned on Malory. The system does no hurt, however neither does it add a lot. Categorizing the story is just not really easy. To name it light satire is correct so far as it goes, however behind the kidding lies a probing account of a priest’s non secular progress regardless of himself.
At the middle of the novel is Father Urban Roche, 50-something member of the Order of Saint Clement—the Clementines, for brief. (Other non secular communities, rivals of the Clementines, embrace the Dolomites and the Dalmatians). Unlike most of his brothers in faith—with few exceptions light, unambitious souls—Father Urban stands out as a knock-‘em-dead preacher with a aptitude for cultivating well-heeled donors and no finish of artistic schemes for pulling the Clementines out of ruts they’re excessively comfy in.
In all-too-typical vogue, his superior rewards this distinctive man by assigning him to a floundering retreat home within the wilds of northern Minnesota. Discouraged at first, Urban rallies and takes up the state of affairs as a problem to his ingenuity in making one thing of the place. Most of the story traces the generally devious paths he treads to deliver that about.
Powers writes in a easy however elegant fashion enlivened by fast humorous thrusts. Of clergy cold-shouldering newcomers to the diocese: “…welcoming them with all of the lukewarmness at their command.” Of a rich, bad-tempered previous lady:
“The solely mild within the room got here from the [TV] units, a dead mild, in order that Mrs. Thwaites’s face confirmed up like a photographic detrimental: a bit of previous lady with the face of a child chook, all eyes and beak, however with a full head of bobbed white hair. One hand was wrapped in black rosary beads the dimensions of cranberries, and the opposite gripped the distant management….The temperature was equatorial.”
In the tip, Urban succeeds. Or does he fail? Or does he succeed by failing? Sixty years later, we’d like a Morte d’Urban for our occasions.
Photo by Thilak Mohan on Unsplash
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