August 9, 2009

Contemporary for a Catholic or Catholic for a Contemporary?

Justin Katz

It's not quite explicit, but one gets the impression that Deal Hudson, director of, likes the short stories of my friend, Andrew McNabb, because they're gritty for a Catholic writer:

Every now and then the real thing comes along: a Catholic writer who writes well enough to satisfy literate readers who judge fiction by the canons of fiction, not theology. It's a bonus when that Catholic writer occasionally peoples his narratives with familiar characters -- like the sexually confused ex-seminarian or the young, excessively certain priest. You recognize him not by his profession of faith, or his attention to clergy and rituals, but by his well-crafted works of imagination infused with a sacramental intelligence. ...

McNabb's stories juxtapose the pure and the impure, the violent and the tender, the body and the spirit -- yet there is nothing in them suggesting a Gnostic dualism. The unity of his stories is achieved by drawing our attention to a dogged mortality we would rather ignore. The Body of This is a sustained, poetic meditation on one character's message to her injured husband: "There you are, and here I am."

For most, it may be a distinction without difference that my own take is that Andrew is palpably Catholic for an artsy modernist. The difference is this: Those who revel in Catholics' willingness to walk the fine line of impropriety wish for challenges to authority, ultimately to God; those who emphasize the pull of piety even within circumstances far removed from religious life leave clues toward Truth for drifters. (A sample from Andrew's local reading emphasizes the point.)

I'm insufficiently familiar with Hudson's writing to know how thoroughly he's immersed in the mindset against which I'd advise, but he's facing the wrong direction when states that Andrew's stories draw "our attention to a dogged mortality we would rather ignore." Turning around, he'd see that our culture has thoroughly immersed itself in the dark thickness of mortality; what Andrew does is to draw our attention to the immortality of which we're deliberately made suspicious.