cover image Lost Souls

Lost Souls

Anthony Schmitz. Ballantine Books, $15 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-345-35722-9

Decrepit, cantankerous and confined to a nursing home, Father Hoven persuades a seminary student to drive him to St. Jude, his former parish. As the two travel, Hoven reveals the decades-old scandal that rocked St. Jude during his first week on the job. Straight out of the seminary, Hoven finds St. Jude a narrow-minded, unwholesome hamlet rife with unsavory secrets, infidelity, drunkenness and depression. The Minnesota townspeople whisper about the affair between Hoven's predecessor and Mary Moon, the housekeeper's daughter; about Alois Pentz, a lonely young farmer who may have murdered his mother. With help from Hoven, Alois captures the attention of Mary, whose husband has abandoned her and their two teenaged sons. But Mary comes home shaken by her evening with Alois, rumors of rape circulate insidiously throughout St. Jude, and the villagers demand revenge. This tragedy embodies for the old priest the longing and capacity for love, the vindictiveness and need for destruction, that torment him and his flock throughout the years. Not one of this first novel's characters is likable. Schmitz renders a graceful and troubling exploration of desire poisoned by guilt and fear, of the frightening ease with which people live out empty lives. (October)