cover image Unworthy


Antonio Monda, trans. from the Italian by John Cullen. Doubleday/Talese, $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0385542944

Set in the late 1970s, this ruminative novel from Monda, acclaimed Italian filmmaker, critic, and author of Do You Believe? Conversations on God and Religion, centers on a delinquent Catholic priest, Abram Singer, who battles mounting doubt and temptation in New York City. Once a construction worker who helped to build the World Trade Center, Abram joins the priesthood despite an innate inability to observe its rules and practices; in one exemplary incident, he steals money from the collection to fund the abortion of one of his mistresses, Lisa. Soon, Abram begins receiving anonymous letters threatening to expose his crimes to the church, and the situation gets increasingly complicated when Lisa is diagnosed with cancer. Forced to keep his distance from Lisa as her condition worsens, Abram’s faith and resilience are stretched to their limits after an intense physical altercation with Lisa’s brother. While too much of the novel is bogged down in generalized musings on religion and morality, Monda writes with earnestness, especially in his evocations of the novel’s period and setting. Some of the strongest sections have nothing at all to do with religion; these moments draw the reader into, for instance, the grimed milieu of the Port Authority in a way that makes the terrestrial feel holy. And while the novel is more profound in theory than in execution, Monda proves himself a worthy interlocutor of the spiritual and the secular alike. (May)