cover image The Priest: A Gothic Romance

The Priest: A Gothic Romance

Thomas M. Disch. Knopf Publishing Group, $24 (303pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41880-1

While Disch (The M.D.) adroitly lampoons the loonier aspects of Catholicism and the religious right, the scattershot story line and glut of secondary characters defuse the effect of his latest effort. Minneapolis priest Pat Bryce is plagued by a host of distinctly unholy problems, including a fondness for altar boys, the blackmail efforts of underworld types (who know of the good father's indiscretions) and involvement in a plot by a fellow priest and an anti-abortion group called Birth-Right to ensure that pregnant girls come to term by holding them hostage in a pseudo-medieval fortress. Bryce's severest affliction, however, is a tendency to assume the identity of a 13th-century bishop in the Inquisition. Disch is at his best in a series of morbidly comic--and strangely plausible--scenes which capture Bryce's assorted addictions and inability to control his downward spiral. But the story's momentum is deflected by minor characters who, despite their brief moment in the comic limelight, have little overall impact: only a concluding summation ties together the loose threads. While much of the humor here will appeal to Disch's fans, readers looking for a more balanced narrative may wish to turn to his earlier titles. Author tour. (Mar.)