Ever had the experience of loving the writing but really hating the content? That's how I felt reading Alissa York's first novel, Mercy,.In lean and poetic prose, York tells the story of two libidinous men of the cloth who behave very badly.
Father August, priest at the parish in Mercy, a small town in Manitoba, gets hot for the bride the first time he officiates at a wedding and a shared obsession is born. The guy just can't help it -- there's foreplay at the confessional, for chrissakes -- then consummation, then shame and then punishment.
Fifty-five years later, in June of 2003, Mercy's ambitious and very randy Reverend Carl Mann wants to build a kids' camp in the bog inhabited by crazy Mary, strange daughter of town drunk Castor.
Mercy's male characters are walking paradoxes. Thomas the butcher slaughters his animals with unusual sensitivity. Castor the blind drunk is the town seer.
All the female characters -- except Mary, who has a way with healing plants -- are hopelessly compliant, locked inside their Christian fantasies and made to melt by the sexy servants of the church.
Why can't I discern any authorial outrage about all this? Almost every delicious detail York drops onto these emotional landscapes -- the sorry saga of August, son of the town whore, the struggles of Carl, father of the wonderful autistic three-year-old -- functions as a defence for men who abuse their power.
York's moral ambiguity and sex-drenched guilt is wrapped in a potently seductive language. Which is fine, but, hasn't York read the newspaper lately? The Father Augusts and Reverend Manns of the world have fucked up a lot of people's lives
Keep it in your pants, guys.Write Books at firstname.lastname@example.org
MERCY by Alissa York (Random House), 332 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NN