cover image Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction

Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction

Nick Ripatrazone. Fortress, $27.99 (300p) ISBN 978-1-5064-5195-4

Ripatrazone (Ember Days), culture editor at Image Journal, argues in this piquant analysis that the interplay between lapsed and practicing Catholic authors sustains “a unique and significant literary culture.” For Ripatrazone, both groups engage in similar forms of storytelling—“corporal, messy, strange, and steeped in the sins of real people”—though he argues they do so to different ends. While the book’s analysis of well-known 20th-century authors who were Catholic, such as Flannery O’Connor and Andre Dubus, feels thin, chapters on Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich are strong, exploring the ways that black and Chippewa cultures and ways of storytelling have differed or responded to Catholic writing. Though Ripatrazone builds his analysis around the differences and shared tensions between lapsed and practicing Catholics—where practicing Catholics used their faith to ground their fiction, lapsed Catholics approached religion through themes of identity and redemption—he leaves uninterrogated another tension that pervades the book: that between Catholics from birth and converts, whose ideas of storytelling were shaped outside of the Catholic tradition. His uneven analysis leaves this and many other tantalizing angles unexplored, but its articulation of a Catholic literature inclusive of—and more importantly defined by—practicing and lapsed Catholics is a valuable one. Scholars of modern American Catholicism will find much food for thought here. (Mar.)