cover image Vestments


John Reimringer, Milkweed, $25 (432p) ISBN 978-1-57131-080-4

In this potent debut about a wayward yet devout young priest who struggles to reconcile his faith with longings of the flesh, Reimringer has crafted a suspenseful, illuminating, and highly readable saga. James Dressler, a Catholic working-class kid from St. Paul, Minn., with a barroom brawler father and a "piece of work" mother, sees the Catholic Church as both his salvation and his moral compass. Following his ordination, James gets assigned to Saint Hieronymus Church in Pretty Prairie, Minn., alongside his friend and cynical, skirt-chasing fellow priest, Mick. James joins a poker group run by fellow priests, and the internecine conflicts and accommodations within the clergy are artfully depicted, as are James's efforts to square his earthly cravings with his priestly station—he's basically a regular guy who loves sports and drinking, and yearns for female companionship. Soon enough, James ends up in trouble and goes back to St. Paul, where an old flame awaits. Reimringer excels, most notably, at revealing how the sensual delectations of Catholic ritual and the forbidden delights of the flesh are part of the same continuum, as sin and repentance feed off each other. (Sept.)