Wednesday, October 31, 2007

book review: Absolution by Paul Martin Midden


MARRIAGE AND FAMILY GAIN NEW ALLURE WHEN PORTRAYED AS FORBIDDEN FRUIT


Title: Absolution
Author: Paul Martin Midden
Publisher: American Book Publishing, 2007
Genre: Contemporary fiction
ISBN: 158924180


What if a Catholic priest, pledged to celibacy, fell in love, married and had children? Paul Martin Midden has created just such a scenario in his first novel Absolution.

In order to carry out his life of duplicity, Father Radko Slopovich does his job well, keeps mum about his personal life, and does a Mr. Bean costume change in his car every day on the way to and from his diocese office in Chicago.

Then one day he gets word that he is being considered for appointment as a bishop. A trip to Rome gives him a glimpse of the power and influence that could be his. He realizes, too, how he will sacrifice the anonymity he loves. And what of Ursula, his atheistic wife? If he accepts the appointment, he will surely need to ask even more complicity from her – a risky request considering her forthright and outspoken nature. Things get even more complicated when he discovers that he is being used to further a Vatican official’s secret agenda.

Absolution is a book that majors on character. The main players, Radko and Ursula, are interesting, complex and delineated in rich and believable detail. Author Midden, a trained psychologist, has worked extensively with the Catholic clergy. He brings his expertise and background to the story, and the result is a psychological reading experience not unlike getting into the head of Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov. Even the bit-players come alive on the page.

Though the story is set in modern U.S.A. (complete with cell phones, computers and a hacker), the reference to Catholic traditions and the pomp of the Vatican give it a traditional, even timeless feel. Further, Midden from time to time uses setting in a symbolic way. At one point Radko takes up a position in North Dakota in the winter. The frigid temperatures, barren landscape and his stark, frumpy residence reflect his emotional and social state.

I enjoyed Midden’s way with language. His prose is confident and at times picturesque:

“He didn’t talk to anyone about what was happening; he didn’t quit his job; he didn’t do anything different. Except see Ursula and luxuriate in the sublime rabbit hole into which he had lately fallen.”
“When Ursula’s phone rang, she barely heard it. She was bonded with her computer screen.

The book covers a lot of territory as it addresses issues of love, marriage, family, relationships, celibacy in the Catholic church, honesty, integrity, and forgiveness. If the book surprised me in one way, it was in Radko’s lack of personal spiritual conviction and commitment. He was religious enough. Yet, though he never questioned the dogma of the church to the point of losing his faith (I got the sense that if he had gone there, he might have), his dilemma over whether or not to remain a priest hardly seemed to involve a relationship with God at all. Rather it seemed all about whether or not he should turn his back on what he felt was his destiny, plus what job would he ever find that was as fulfilling as being a man of the cloth.

All in all, Absolution is a skillfully told tale. Marriage and family gain a new allure when they are portrayed as forbidden fruit. Radko and Ursula will live with readers long after they have turned the last page.

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