I recently read Fatherless, a novel written by Brian Gail and published by One More Soul. (Interestingly, the book doesn’t appear to be available for purchase from One More Soul.) I found the book to be a fairly easy and compelling read. I had no trouble completing the 500+ pages in about a week. I joined a few other men for a discussion of the book and the issues raised by it.
The story looks at the moral dilemmas facing three Catholic families who seek guidance from a young associate pastor. One case explores the way in which the pharmaceutical industry achieved cultural and governmental approval of oral contraceptives in spite of the serious medical risks to women. The second case follows the marketing of premium cable channels and the infiltration of smut as entertainment into the homes of unsuspecting families.
The third case is a little less clear. I suspect that Gail wanted to show that contraceptive use undermines marriage, but he also pulls in themes of clerical pedophilia, mental disorder, and demonic oppression without ever providing a satisfactory resolution. Thus, it becomes unclear what drives the actions of the third family’s father. Take away the extraordinary circumstances of his daughter’s behavior, and things might well have turned out differently. Of the three families in the novel, the plot for the third was the least satisfying for me as a reader.
The three plots are woven together into a fourth story line that follows the ministry of a priest who, at the beginning of the tale is just entering his second year after ordination. The over-arching theme of Gail’s novel might be the way in which the Catholic Church lost its moral voice in the ‘60s and ‘70s and only started to recover that voice under the leadership of Pope John Paul II. The bishops and dissenting theologians are particularly singled out for their sins of omission (for the bishops) and commission (for the theologians).
Overall, the book provides an important focus for discussion, even if it does fall short in some areas. I will certainly recommend it to anyone interested in the threat posed to the family by the prevailing American culture.