Friday, January 07, 2005

1. Thy Brother's Wife

by Andrew M. Greeley

For some reason there’s no ISBN for this book. I can’t find it on Amazon, I can’t find it in Books in Print, and I can’t find it in the actual book. What’s up with that? You’d think it were written in 1485, not 1982.

For as long as I can remember I’ve known the name of Andrew M. Greeley. My mother, a Catholic, was the fan of the priest who wrote controversial books on the lives on those in the Church. Imagine my excitement when, after being acquainted with the name for so many years, I end up reading it on a membership card presented to me at work. I say nothing, but gasp inwardly and proceed to blindingly smile my way through the transaction, a shipping order of several large, expensive books. Upon finishing the order and bidding the man a hearty goodbye, I realize that I’ve made a mistake and that the shipping information had not gone through and, since it had been paid for in person, couldn’t be redone. I run to the back of the store to the Manager who is Not Mine and explain to him the situation, all excited and like, “It was Andrew Greeley! Do you know who that is? He’s an associate professor at the U of C, too!” “Did you tell him you’re a writer and went to the U of C?” he asked. “No! I didn’t want to be all dorky fan on him.”

Not My Manager explained how the situation could be rectified and I went back to my register. Only to have Father Greeley return with more books. “Father Greeley!” I chirped. “I’m so glad you came back!” I told him what had happened and copied down his credit card information for the previous order, promising to add his second stack of books to it. He was very warm and lighthearted about it and thanked me for my efforts. I updated Not My Manager on the situation and at the end of the day I redid the entire order. And forgot to give the man his membership discount. So I messed up the order twice. Twice. Luckily the second error is common and easily fixed, but I felt like an idiot. Not My Manager, of course, had the grace to tease me about it for the next two days.

So the actual book: Thy Brother’s Wife is the story of two brothers, Sean and Paul Cronin, spanning over twenty years of their life as they go from teenagers to fulfilling their father’s dreams. With Paul slated to occupy the White House, Sean’s goals reside in the Catholic Church, aiming to become Archbishop of the Chicago Diocese. Throughout the story, the two wrestle with their preconceived life paths, their own beliefs, and their very different connections to the same woman – Nora. Nora, who was adopted as a young girl by the boys’ father, is betrothed to Paul, fulfilling her destiny as a Cronin by marrying into the family and mothering their next generation despite the intense love she and Sean feel for each other. It is this love that Sean must come to terms with, a task made more difficult with his knowledge of Paul’s philandering and his wavering faith in the teachings of the Church.

It’s obvious why Greeley’s work is so controversial. It questions Catholic doctrine, contemplates change, and displays priests for what they really are: members of the male human race. Sean Cronin is as fallible and unsure of himself as any man may be, but is stronger for acknowledging his own weakness and working to understand them. We tend to hold priests as beings of higher restraint than the rest of us, but Greeley brings them back down to where they should be as men working to honor their commitments. The book is very plot-driven, which isn’t something I’m used to reading as most plot-driven stories sacrifice the florid use of language, of which I’m fond, for that plot, but I can’t deny that I didn’t want to put this book down without finding out what would happen to Sean and Paul and Nora. If the story itself is a bit contrived – Paul’s political run puts the family right in the midst of the Kennedy administration – Greeley makes up for it with the honest way he approaches Catholicism. As a raised Catholic, it was interesting to read about the religion as written by someone in it himself. I can see why my mother, who likes to read controversial and banned books just to see what the fuss is, is such a fan. I plan on delving into more of Father Greeley’s work – my mother excitedly passed a couple off on me when I related the above story – not for something perfectly written, but for an engaging, page-turning read.

Stars (out of five):
Star Star Star


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review of Thy Brother's Wife. I used to love Greeley, although I found that after awhile (like ten years) his books all started to get very repetitive. I think his best is still Patience of a Saint, which was the first one I read and which I highly recommend if you're going to delve further into Greeley. Cool about meeting him, even under those circumstances.

TrudyJ from Chicklit

12:37 PM  

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