September 25, 2009

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Knock on wood,  my previous stretch of disappointing reads has ceased, as I’ve enjoyed a few decent books in a row, all marvelous stories and worthy of finishing, which is so satisfying.   Many thanks to my tax dollars and the Multnomah County Library for keeping my bookish desires happy.

Here are two of my most recent and engaging reads, on quite opposite ends of the literary spectrum, which suits my tastes just fine (pun intended, you’ll see).  Though this novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction nine years before I was even a twinkle in either of my parents’ eyes (1962), it seemed, to me, at least, that it could have been written today, as it speaks to the quite contemporary issues of faith, family, friendship, and healing.

The Edge of Sadness follows Hugh Kennedy, a recovering alcoholic, as he returns to Boston and his damaged priesthood after a four year sojourn in the desert southwest.  The story centers around Father Hugh’s re-acquaintance with the Carmody family: the often charming and devilishly cruel patriarch Charlie, his son, Father John of the dazzlingly ideal parish, St. Raymond’s, his daughter, Helen, and a colorful host of  siblings, children, grandchildren, and friends.

Father Hugh, once a highly regarded priest in a fairly well-to-do parish, is now leading a rather rag tag flock at Old Saint Paul’s, a poor and crumbling parish just outside of his old neighborhood.  His one curate, Father Danowski, often to Father Hugh’s chagrin and sometimes his delight, is an eternal and energetic optimist, always trusting that new life will be breathed into Old Saint Paul’s, returning the parish to it’s glory days.

At 640 pages, the novel is a leisurely drive in the country, as Edwin O’Connor carefully unfolds the stories of the tricky relationships between the Carmody’s, the reasons for Father Hugh’s fall from grace and his assignment at Old Saint Paul’s, as well as the inner life of a priest.  Though it hardly painted an idyllic portrait of family, priesthood, or parish life, I found the story beautiful and magnetic in it’s honesty.  For isn’t it encouraging to imagine that even men of the cloth have the same struggles with prayer, envy, trust, and above all, faith, as the laity?  I had a hard time putting it down.

Okay, since this is a long post, I’ve included an intermission, so you can do exactly what I did in between writing these segments, eat.  Of course I wanted something quick, so I wouldn’t dawdle and not finish this post by my self-imposed deadline.  What I made is quintessentially Colleen and yummy to my tummy, though maybe not yours.  A bit of tuna, some sliced nacho style jalapenos, a drizzle of organic EVOO (as Rachel Ray would say), and a sprinkle of smoked sea salt.  It really hit the spot!

Onward to David Lebovitz and his The Sweet Life in Paris.  He describes it as delicious adventures in the world’s most glorious – and perplexing – city.  Though this is quite true, I would also add the word hilarious after delicious.  Indeed.  Mr. Lebovitz is a highly entertaining story teller.

Without spending any time with the delicious (and sometimes pretty, I’m sure) sounding recipes, the book is a quick and laughter-filled frolic through the charming, and sometimes infuriating, streets of Paris, especially when you step in dog poo, because you will, dear reader, I gua-ran-tee it.  I zipped through it over the course of an afternoon, easily laughing and commiserating with David on his adventures from the quotidian to the unusual.

However, where I throw up my hands in frustration and declare a moratorium on visits to Paris as a result of being chastised for not having exact change, failing to understand the delicacies of French plumbing, or being jockeyed out of my position in line, David joins the party and fully engages, eventually becoming one of those line jockeys himself.  C’est pas ma faute!

If you have any interest in learning about an honest Parisian life and some delicious sounding recipes, grab a copy.  It doesn’t disappoint!