In light of all the recent publicity surrounding the sexual abuse scandals in both the Catholic Church and at Penn State, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Jennifer Haigh’s latest novel, Faith. She tells the story of Father Art Breen, the popular and respected pastor of a large suburban Boston parish who is accused of abusing an eight year old boy he has taken under his wing. But the novel is actually more about family dynamics, truth and trust, punishment and forgiveness. Haigh explores all kinds of faith—- faith in the church, faith in ones family, faith that what we’ve believed to be true our whole life is still true, faith in ones own strengths and beliefs.
Art’s half sister Sheila narrates the tale. Although she has fled her stifling Irish American home and has lost faith in the church of her youth, she returns home to fight for Art – her faith in his innocence is absolute. Her other brother Mike, has the opposite reaction. The sibling relationship is further complicated by Mike’s wife who believes everything is wrong in the Catholic Church, their parents’ inability to cope in any realistic way with the situation, and Art’s resistance to answer questions and refusal to defend himself.
Haigh has done an admirable job of not sensationalizing the subject and actually keeps the reader in suspense. She certainly makes the point that things aren’t always as they seem.
I enjoyed the book so much more than I expected to. It turns out to be a fascinating look at a complex moral issue. Beautifully written, it is a story of love and loss, good and evil, and faith.