The Variations

John Donatich, Author
John Donatich. Holt, $25 (276p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9438-1
Reviewed on: 01/09/2012
Release date: 02/28/2012
Paperback - 270 pages - 978-1-250-02229-5
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-8050-9528-9
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This dour but richly layered debut novel by Donatich (after the memoir, Ambivalence, A Love Story), the director of Yale University Press, probes the troubled life and ministry of a middle-aged Roman Catholic priest who has lost his spiritual compass. Father Dominic, a pastor in a decrepit neighborhood in New Haven, Conn., spends his time blogging his “contentious” ecclesiastical opinions, driving without a license after a DWI, and seriously questioning his faith. Though complex debates about celibacy and the modern Catholic Church are well articulated through Father Dominic’s frequent ruminations, he still manages to counsel Dolores Alfano, an emotionally disturbed 16-year-old high school dropout allegedly impregnated by the former pastor, the late Father Carl. Father Dominic hires James, a talented African-American classical piano student, as church organist, but soon learns that his sparsely attended church, hurt by the economy, is slated for closure. Distraught, he consorts with local prostitutes, accepts a contract to write magazine articles, and hooks up with his hard-charging editor, Andrea, losing his parish and church, and generally running off the rails. He does seek a measure of peace with Andrea by attending James’s recital, where they hear a moving rendition of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” Though the heaviness of Donatich’s setting and characters could have been lightened with a touch of humor, this is a solid debut. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Mar.)
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