FATHER JOE: The Man Who Saved My Soul

Tony Hendra, Author . Random $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6184-6

When he was 14, Hendra had an affair with a married woman. One afternoon, her husband, a devout Roman Catholic, discovered the two in each other's arms. The husband, acting more out of concern for Hendra's soul than out of anger, arranged for the teenager to spend several weeks under the tutelage of Father Joe at a Benedictine abbey in England. Expecting cruel treatment similar to that handed out by the monks in his Catholic elementary school, Hendra was surprised to meet instead a rotund, knobby-kneed confessor whose thoughtful, open manner changed Hendra's life forever. As Hendra reveals in this graceful, humorous tale, Father Joe acted not only as a confessor, but also as a friend and as the guiding spirit of Hendra's life (the author is now married with three children). Under the influence of Father Joe, Hendra passionately decided to follow the monastic life. At every turn, he met Father Joe's gentle insistence that he wasn't yet ready to enter the monastery. At Cambridge, Hendra discovered a new passion—comedy—and pursued it as ardently as he'd pursued religion. Hendra writes well (he spent several years as the head writer at National Lampoon ), chronicling the failure of his first marriage, his descent into substance abuse, his self-hatred and his incessant search for meaning in compelling prose and with clear-eyed honesty. Throughout Hendra's life, Father Joe stands by his side, like a gentle shepherd leading a lost sheep back to a place where it can graze safely. Agent, Jonathan Lazear. (On sale May 18)

Forecast: Although the book's titular character is a Benedictine monk, this memoir isn't necessarily bound for religion bookshelves. Advance praise from Frank McCourt and Hendra's reputation as a humorist should widen its appeal considerably.

Reviewed on: 04/05/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
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