Lisa Eskra's Reviews > Faith

Faith by Jennifer Haigh
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Mar 31, 11

Read in March, 2011

This book surprised me -- not only in what it did well but also what it did poorly. Overall, I liked it. I recommend it for anyone interested in a good family drama.

The good:

The premise of the novel is great -- a priest scandal and how it tears one family apart. It's why I chose the book. At its most basic, it reads like a did-he-or-didn't-he mystery, peeling off the layers of an onion to get to the truth. I also liked her writing. Easy to read and it flows well from one scene to the next. It's a quasi-stream-of-consciousness style with some interesting quirks (given that Sheila continues to narrate the scenes she's pieced together from other accounts).

The atmosphere she creates of the life of a priest is done quite well. Lots of attention to detail makes it feel very realistic.

The bad:

Haigh commits two of the most basic flaws in what's considered good writing: telling instead of showing and fast-swapping points of view. Most readers may not even notice, but it slapped my across the face like a wet fish before I finished the first chapter. Some may call it "structurally ambitious"; I call it just plain bad.

Early on, I kept asking myself, "Is there an actual story here?" The narrator says on numerous occasions, "I'll get to that later." Page 25 starts with "The story begins..." Only it doesn't. More backstory. The first 45 pages are almost solid internal monologue (telling), and while the writing is decent, it's quite forgettable too. If you read the back cover of the book, you've got the gist. The novel just doesn't need it.

From there on, the writing is great. Haigh mixes Sheila's own discoveries with stories from Art and other characters seamlessly. The pacing is good, and it builds enough mystery and investment in the characters to make for a decent book. Character development is marvelous (outside Haigh's irrepressible need to tell the reader instead of showing them).

I didn't have a problem with present-day Ted McGann being characterized as having Alzheimer's but the disease is NOT caused by severe alcoholism. Alcoholic dementia has been studied and observed to improve if the affected person stays sober (no loss of brain cells occurs, merely shrinkage of white matter, which is a reversible state). But I digress...

The novel itself plays fast and loose with point of view. In a couple locations, the point of view changes are ambiguous. Instead of heightening the tension, as it tries to do, it comes off more confusing that it needs to, especially when adding in asides from Shelia.

Conclusion:

I think most people who pick up this novel are going to be pleased with it. I enjoyed it (the story itself is great), but it could've been better if the characters' backstories were better integrated in the novel. Haigh tells the reader a lot of things that are pretty obvious once she gets to scenes they're actually in.

As with everything, it all comes down to personal preference. In deciding whether or not to read this novel, ask yourself one question -- will you feel cheated knowing in advance that most of the novel's characterization is done via telling instead of showing? It's the main problem I had with the novel, but it's a big one.

I'd give it 3.5 stars if I could.
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Jennifer These were my thoughts exactly--couldn't have said it better!


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