In this psychologically sensational melodrama, Sheila McGann - half-sister of Boston parish priest Arthur “Art” Breen - narrates as her family is driven to the brink by accusations of pedophilia. The novel is both intimate and expansive, detailing the alarming events of
the spring and summer of 2002 when a single vile accusation, still unproven, makes a ruin of Art’s life.
An absorbing take on conscience and humanity, Jennifer Haigh magnetically binds religious morality to closeted sexual needs. The author follows Art and the sad trajectory of his priesthood, where love and respect are suddenly replaced by cold, dark suspicion and hate. For months, the entire city of Boston
is rocked by the scandal in which priests from all over the Archdiocese were accused, reprimanded, and exposed.
For twenty-five years, Art has loyally served his parishioners in a life that lacks any kind of human closeness. Gentle and humorous,
possessing an admirably calm temperament, Art is little prepared when he’s asked to report to the Cardinal and told that he
stands accused of molesting little Aiden Conlon. The news sends Art into shock. Silently bowing his head, he
is most concerned about what he will say to the parishioners.
Realtor Mike McGann, Art’s half-brother, can barely contain himself, and Sheila - her older brother's fiercest defender - is appalled that Mike actually believes the story. Imprisoned by his thoughts, Mike finally sees Art for what he is: a
frail, “slightly feminine” frail man who seems like a perfect candidate for the crime. Caught in a web of familial, social, and religious dysfunction, Art, Mike, and Sheila navigate treacherous waters as their investigation turns to Aiden’s mother, recovering meth addict Kath Conlon.
For years Kath has been living on the edge. A good-time girl with a shitty job and a
constantly tweaking boyfriend, Kath (who tapes her affirmations on the bathroom mirror) dreams of buying the little Cape Cod house across the street. The house is being offered for sale by Michael, who with an agenda of his own befriends Kath, building a relationship based on secrets and sex in the hope he can get to the truth behind the shocking allegations.
From the loneliness of Art’s days to his dwindling sense of purpose and frustration with the Archdiocesan bureaucracy, to Sheila, who questions her brother's life of "cassock and confessional," we see people driven to the edge. It's impossible not to be moved by Art as his reputation ends in tatters and his life’s work collapses around him. Kath must now face
the horrible knowledge that she has surrendered too much while Sheila witnesses her two brothers moving inexorably along their courses “like two trains moving at different speeds, their tracks about to intersect.”
Art lies broken and ill, blinded to the realities of the church while dark secrets of his boyhood are painfully revealed.
We are forced to recognize the stark truth of this unsettling novel, a compelling exploration of sin and salvation, showcasing one man’s descent into a flurry of despair and of a family who can do little but watch as their brother loses all hope of salvation.