cover image Vestments


Alfred Alcorn. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $17.95 (276pp) ISBN 978-0-395-47042-8

Alcorn's intelligent, satisfying second novel (after The Pull of the Earth), concerns a successful Boston journalist whose smugly cynical view of the world is dramatically overturned by a calamitous series of events, a trial-by-fire that eventually leads to spiritual rebirth. Sebastian Taggart makes a handsome living writing and delivering ""liberal'' editorials for a local TV station, while mocking these humanitarian sentiments off-camera. He shares a chic co-op with an attractive and WASPy interior designer whose ingenuous willingness to embrace the faddish makes her an easy foil for his scalding wit. An orphan, Sebastian was adopted by an Irish-Catholic aunt, who now lies slowly dying in a nursing home; in her delirium, Aunt Esther imagines her nephew to be a priest, and Sebastian is happy to indulge this fantasy by wearing a clerical collar during his bedside visits since he believes that the aunt has left him a fortune in her will. The act of donning a priest's vestments opens a Pandora's box of unresolved feelings and buried spiritual leanings in Sebastian's lapsed Catholic soul. Meanwhile, a series of personal disasters leads him to reexamine his beliefs and consider devoting himself wholeheartedly to a faith that he had previously rejected. An intelligent and skillfully written book, moving deftly between low comedy and high seriousness, the narrative addresses important issues dealing with ``looking for a world of faith beyond the world of things.'' This entertaining tale of the hectic progress of a modern-day pilgrim should increase Alcorn's stature as a gifted novelist with a moral vision. (April)