This is a great book about leadership for young readers. David is voted captain of his hockey team. In order to be a good captain he wants to emulate his favorite captains, Wendel Clark of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Wayne Gretzky of the Los Angeles Kings. He also spends time studying other Canadian leaders like Jean Beliveau, Marilyn Bell, Nancy Greene, Sir John A Macdonald, Pierre Trudeau, Terry Fox, Rick Hansen and many more. Over the hockey season he does become a better captain, and gets to watch a Western conference final between his two favorite captains in the NHL. (though this version of the story omits the notorious high stick by the great one in that series.) This is a wonderful book, both about hockey and leadership. I was and never will be a leaf's fan but I have always appreciated Wendel's skill.
Wow, what an intense workout! In this workout Tony alternates between Butt and Belly, 10 exercises per round and then repeat. Now there is a lot of chatter in the first round so it is 27 minutes long and the second round is only 18 minutes so it is a bit of a speed round. Most exercises are some form of iso, slower movement, and longer holds at the peak point of the exercise. The exercises are:
1. Iso Hop Squats - 30 Reps 2. Iso Bike - 30 Reps 3. Iso Back Kicks - 15 Reps Per Side 4. Iso Torso Twist - 10 Reps (Straight Jacket Twists) 5. Leap Frog Squats Slowly - 30 Reps 6. Iso Crunch Frog - 30 Reps 7. 8 Card Pick Up 8. The Monster! - 10 Reps 9. Warrior Run - 30 Reps - 15 Per Side 10. Super Scissors - 10 Reps Slowly
This program will make your thighs, buns and abs burn. It is intense and is a fantastic workout. I see this replacing Ab Ripper X to change things up regularly, going forward. One on One with Tony Horton has been on the market a little over a year, from Beachbody. It started when Tony turned 50 as a subscription service, because so many fans of his other programs were looking for more workouts with Tony. For about $20 a month you get a new workout DVD each month. You can subscribe and get them all or order the specific ones that grab your attention. These workouts are close, intimate and real. These are adv
(Disclaimer: I am asked frequently if I am a Beachbody Coach, no I am not, I am just some one who has used their products, P90X, 1on1 with Tony Horton and more and liked them and achieved good results. I am not paid by Beachbody or any of their affiliates. You can see my full disclaimer here.)
You would think after 14 books I would be bored with a book about a young boy with dyslexia. Yet I am not; I actually anticipate the new books as they come out. I do not always read them in order but find that each stands well on its own. In the beginning of this tale, Hank is feeling the pinch of preparing to share a room with his new little brother who is on the way. The Zipzer parents decide to give Hank and his sister Emily a trip before the new sibling arrives. So Stanley takes the two skiing in Vermont. While on the slopes they get the call - Randi has gone into labour.
The trip to the hospital is no easy matter. A giant storm is blowing in. Yet how can you not have fun traveling with the Zipzers by car, in a boxcar with horses, in a van full of Chinese acrobats, dogsled and yes, as the title says, even by dump truck. This is one of the best of the books in the series, and bound to be great fun for children of all ages.
Our Fairy Tale Romance How I Met A Princess in Disguise and Convinced Her To Marry Me. Andrew Schmiedicke Chesterton Press ISBN 9780981931890
This book is a wonderful story of hope, prayer and faith. It is the story of Andrew Schmiedicke and Regina Doman and their coming together with God in marriage. It is very well written, it is open, honest and transparent. Andrew shares his journey and his discernment process, as he tried to determine God's plans for his life, marriage or the priesthood. It is a struggle and process that many Catholic men have gone through. Andrew captures the struggle and sense of disappointment many experience in trying to find God's will and direction for their life. The book is moving and will stir emotions in the reader. The book begins with these words: "at 25 years of age I was already a lonely bachelor. After a number of failed relationships in high school, college and after college; after a number of journeys, adventures, and failed business and employment ventures; I found myself back in Michigan, looking for a job, and feeling ... well...like a failure. And a bachelor." But that is just the beginning, the once upon a time.
For those already married it will remind them of their own journey, for those not yet married or engaged it can serve as a guide in how to determine God's will in their life. This is a great book as a journey both spiritual and relational. It also contains a collection of prayers at the end of the book, for those seeking a spouse, for the engagement and for the marriage. This alone makes it an exceptional resource. Book by Regina Doman: Fairy Tales Retold: Snow White and Rose Red (1997) Shadow Of The Bear (2002) Black As Night (2004) Waking Rose (2007) Midnight Dancers (2008) Alex O'Donnell and the 40 Cyber Thieves (2010)\ Rapunzel Let Down (2013) Picture Books: Angels in the Water (2004) Fairy Tale Novel Paper Dolls (2009)
When I Grow Up
Leonid Gore Scholastic
This is another excellent picture book for children from Scholastic Press. It is the story of a young boy who asks the question "What will I be when I grow up?" and he gets lots of answers, from a raindrop, from a green sprout, from a caterpillar, from a little chick, and from his shadow. Each of the things he meets is cut out of the pages and on one page they are one thing and on the flip something else. Nice shapes and sizes make these interesting additions for the children reading the book. Yet in the end he decides he wants to be just like his father. This book is a nice oversized picture book, with great illustrations painted by the author. It's a book I look forward to sharing with my son as he gets older.
This is a workout series designed to help you overcome pain issues. It deals with 5 main areas of the body, Neck, Shoulders, Core, Lower Back, Knees. Even though I am a P90X Grad I still have been struggling with shoulder pain from an old injury and it causes tension in the neck and that causes more pain and discomfort. I have been trying the specific target workouts for those areas and am greatly impressed by the results. The way this video is set up helps you do an assessment for each area, and then do specific exercises to increase either strength or mobility. Depending on the body part, there are between 5 and 8 exercises that are part of the Total Body Solution. These exercises are designed to increase both mobility and endurance strength in each of these common problem areas.
Neck Most people today suffer from neck issues, mainly from hours spent at a computer in an improper position. There are 5 exercises with a goal of 15 repetitions. Equipment needed: Mat, Chair. Shoulders This deals with the whole shoulder, upper back and pecs. There are 8 exercises for this solution. I was amazed at how much I increased my range of motion by doing this just a few times. Equipment needed: Mat, Exercise band, Body ball. Core I was surprised that I failed this assessment. I failed on the sides of the mid-section. This was actually a really tough solution. I was barely able to complete the 15 repetitions on each of the 5 exercises. But I could feel it really open up the deep core muscles. Equipment needed: Mat.
Lower Back I had no problems with the assessment for the Lower back, yet even with that I found the exercises helped loosen me up and think they are a good stretch and exercise. The 8 exercises do a great job of stretching and strengthening the lower back. Equipment needed: Mat. Knees The seven exercises in this set are designed to help warm up, strengthen and stretch the whole knee. Equipment needed: Mat, Chair.
None of these exercises was very challenging to me as a P90X grad. And yet I found them very valuable to help in certain areas where I have known weakness or lack of range of motion from injuries and inactivity. Also, after having worked through these, I can think of 5 or 6 people I know who will benefit from some or all of these exercises. The drawback, in my opinion, is there is no option on the disk to do the whole set. You have to do each part separately, and then you get a series of Beachbody advertisements. Then you go back to the menu and can select the next. It would be good if there were an option to just go through all 5 together. It would have been a good design if you could choose the exercises without the assessments, but the way the disk is set up, you have to fast-forward through the assessment if you want to do just the exercises. All in all though, I would state it is a good product, but it could have been great if the menus had been set up differently to make it more flexible and user friendly. (Disclaimer: I am asked frequently if I am a Beachbody Coach, no I am not, I am just some one who has used their products, P90X, 1on1 with Tony Horton and more and liked them and achieved good results. I am not paid by Beachbody or any of their affiliates. You can see my full disclaimer here.)
The Little Scholastic books are ones that our children and their friends love. On the covers they say baby to 2, and that they are touch and feel books. But our daughter who is 3 still loves them, especially reading them with her little brother. The book is full of shapes, textures and flaps. In this one, the reader encounters silky flowers, fuzzy birds, shimmery raindrops, rubbery boots and a flap to put away an umbrella. Bright, colorful with simple fun illustrations, this is a great little book.
Help Is On the Way! Lego City Adventures Level 1 Reader Sonia Sander Scholastic ISBN 9780545150682
In this Lego City Adventure you almost have it all - Police, City Workers, and an Ambulance. It is the story of Jessie and her dog Bear. Bear walks Jessie to and from school every day. Then one day he is not there after school. Jessie runs home and he is not there. So she starts to look for him. Just as it starts to rain, she finds him stuck under a gate in the park. She finds a police officer to help her, and he calls in more officers. They call in the city workers and finally they get the dog free.
The Leveled readers are great books for young children. There are hundreds of titles in these formats, even across different publishers. What makes this particular series, The Lego City Adventures, so good is that little boys will be attracted to them because of the format and styles of both the stories and artwork. I can see young boys trying to make with Lego the scenes to act out from the books. As a Level 1 reader geared for Kindergarten to Grade 1, this book is intended to help with sight, word recognition, sounding out simple words and sentences. The book is fun, bright, and colorful and will keep a small child's attention.
The Little Scholastics are a great series of books. The early ones are to help children touch, feel textures, and point to objects and learn to identify things. The next level is designed to help look, listen and repeat. These books are very well done to help your children develop. This book is about the wonders of fall. Children of all ages come across shimmery apples, a flap to watch a tree change colors and the shiny colored leaves fall. There is a warm fuzzy scarf, crunchy leaves piled to jump into, shiny apples and flaps for colors to keep out the wind. Books in this series: Welcome Fall Welcome Winter Welcome Spring Welcome Summer
J.F. Powers is an enigma. He wrote mostly about priests, yet was never one himself. He was a writer yet his output was slim in comparison with his contemporaries, both religious and secular. He was praised by other authors and academics and yet his words, his works, seem to sit on the edge of a wide audience. To use an analogy, the works of J.F. Powers are like a supporting actor who wins a Grammy for a movie that was mediocre at best. Powers created an exceptional canon of work in its quality, and ability to evoke a response, yet it is a small collection by comparison to most. Maybe that is how we can best sum up Powers' life and legacy; he did not produce much, but what he did produce was of extraordinary quality. He was a modest man who for the most part lived outside the limelight, much like his works, and yet today they can be found in numerous collections, anthologies and in college curriculums. In this final essay we will endeavor to remark about why such an unassuming man in so few published works could create such a lasting impact and legacy. Evelyn Waugh stated of Powers' first collection Prince of Darkness and Other Stories: "Prince of Darkness is almost as unique as his country as a lay writer who is at ease in the Church; whose whole art, moreover, is everywhere infused and directed by his Faith." Thus we will now examine some reactions to Powers' works and his life.
First, in his book Good People … from an Author's Life, Powers' contemporary Jon Hassler dedicates a chapter to Powers and his wife Betty Wahl and states: "J.F. powers was a man of few words and carefully chosen." He was speaking about his first conversation with Powers and yet this concise sentence sums up Powers' writings also. Hassler also relates that when asked if his priest novels were mostly for Catholic readers that Powers replied: "Is Wind in the Willows mostly for animals?" Though the comparison is a stretch it makes his point. Hassler then goes on to say: "He (Powers) and his wife, the writer Betty Wahl, were the best examples I've ever met of people whose dedication to a principle resulted in a legacy of great value. Their principle was writing fiction, and their legacy to the readers of the world." Hassler then relates a story of a conversation where he discovers that Powers was working on a novel that was thirteen years overdue for the publisher. Hassler emphatically states: "It isn't hard for me to believe that Powers had spent every day of those many overdue years working on the novel, for he was simply the most deliberate writer I've ever known or heard of." Finally Hassler, commenting on Powers' last novel Wheat that Springeth Green, states: "I was struck by what little space he devoted to physical description; his strength was in writing what people thought and said." Hassler had a great deal of respect for Powers both as a person and as a writer. That respect is seen in many who have encountered these writings.
Next we will examine Ross Labrie'. Labrie wrote extensively about Catholic fiction and catholic writers. He wrote about Thomas Merton's artwork, he compiled a collection called The Catholic Imagination in American Literature, but the piece we are concerned about is called The Professional, the Amateur and the Other Thing, his article on J.F. Powers written in 1974, and subsequently republished a number of times. Labrie states of Powers: "He is one of the foremost stylists of the 20th Century. The subject of his later work, and most of his earlier, is the life of Roman Catholic clergy, yet one would be wrong to imagine his work limited in scope. The theme is the big one of money and power." Labrie interprets the stories and novels of Powers in their scope and not their quantity. Commenting on the fact that the novel Morte d'Urban is for the most part a collection of short stories, Labrie states: "Two fine orchestral passages frame the novel and attempt to redeem it from being a set of (marvelous) short stories about Father Urban." Labrie seems to appreciate Powers' skill and talent and yet not to like the ending of Urban, implying that as Powers criticized clergy in his writings, his writings are criticized by readers.
There are two collections dedicated to examining Powers' works both published in 1968. The first is The Christian Critic Series - J.F. Powers edited by Fallon Evans. It is a splendid collection with eleven pieces examining various aspects of Powers' writings and life. At about a hundred pages of text, it is as concise as Powers' writings and just as focused. The piece that had the greatest impact on me was by Thomas Merton, called Morte D'Urban: Two Celebrations. Merton states about the novel: "This book is not a tract for or against anything, yet it can be taken perhaps as a witness and as a warning. The mission of the Church in America is not purely and simply to get itself accepted by wearing affluent expression and adopting the idiosyncrasies of American Business. We are here to celebrate the mystery of salvation and of our unity in Christ. But this celebration is meaningless unless it manifests itself in an uncompromising Christian concern for man and his society." All of the pieces in this book about Powers' works were previously published and compiled in this collection, which is an excellent resource. One of the greatest pieces in this collection is the first one, an interview done between Sister Kristen and Powers, transcribed in question and answer format. It originally appeared in 1964 and is titled The Catholic and Creativity. It is the single largest collection I have found of Powers speaking or writing about himself and his process. As such, it is invaluable to the study of his works.
The Second collection dedicated to Powers' writings is the Twayne's United States Authors Series - J.F. Powers, edited by Sylvia Bowman. This specific volume by J.V. Hagopian is dedicated to examining Powers' works. It has a great chronology of Powers' life and his works as well as an extensive notes and bibliographical section. Hagopian in his preface states: "Although he is a writer's writer, J.F. Powers has no broad popular following but is known among his peers as a brilliant satirist and meticulous craftsman. His fiction is widely anthologized and often taught in universities." It is a great pity that more recent academic scholarship has not been as extensively applied to Powers' work.
Powers' stories do indeed show up in numerous anthologies and collections, including collections of Best American Short Stories, Best American Fiction and Best American Catholic Fiction. If anything, his work is at an all-time high level of popularity. All of his books have been in print for more than a decade; almost every year one or more of his short stories makes it into a new collection, introducing a new generation to his great skill and wit.
So, with all of the accolades and resurgence in his popularity, what does it mean to my study of J.F. Powers, his life and literature and legacy? I can only state that by having worked through his works in published order, and working through the books about him and his works, I now have a greater appreciation for him as both an artist and as a man. Powers' one short story had influence over me for more than a decade. I could not even remember the name of the story or the author but could have told you the story nearly verbatim. Now, having examined his works as a whole, I can only state that that influence has been magnified. He wrote about people trying to live a life of faith and people living in a fallen world. He wrote about struggles, goals, aspirations and hopes. He also wrote about fears, failures and fragility of both body and mind. His works are pieces I will return to again and again. And each time they evoke an emotional response and a desire for action. They seem to help center me, to help me return to a focus on prayer and other spiritual disciplines. Maybe that is the greatest testament to Powers' writings - those who truly discover his works become fans and dedicated disciples.
1. Evelyn Waugh as quoted in J.F. Powers, 81, Dies; Wrote About Priests http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/17/arts/j-f-powers-81-dies-wrote-about-priests.html 2. Hassler, Jon: Good People … from an Author's Life, Loyola Press, Chicago, 2001, p.86 3. IBID p.87 4. IBID p.87 5. IBID p.88 6. IBID p.98,99 7. Labrie, Ross, Honest Ulsterman, The Professional, the Amateur, and the Other Thing, p.32 8. IBID p. 39 9. Fallon, Evan (Editor) The Christian Critic Series J.F. Powers, B. Herder Book Co. St. Louis, Missoury, 1968, p.100 10. Bowman, Sylvia (General Editor) Hagopian, J.V. (author) Twayne's United States Authors Series - J.F. Powers, Twayne Publishers Inc, New York, NY, 1968, p.9
(First written for RS398 - The Religious Fiction of J.F. Powers.)
Wheat that Springeth Green by J.F. Powers, Image Books, The New York review of Books, New York, NY, 2000 (First published in 1988). This novel follows a young man through life, from early years growing up in an urban parish through to the priesthood and on into life in the ministry. It is a story told in three parts, but as a series of vignettes. Powers was a short story writer and even though both his novels won awards, they are really a collection of short stories, woven together.
Chapter 6 in this novel, Out in the World, was previously published in the New Yorker as The Warm Sand. A different variation on that same story appeared in the collection The Substance of Things Hoped For: Short Fiction By modern Catholic Authors and was my introduction to Powers' work. When I first read the story, I was drawn in by Joe's desire to be more religious, to wear a hair shirt, to use a prei-dieu, (and I have one to this day), and by his keen desire to serve the church and do so with integrity. Yet, what happens is, the day-to-day work of running a parish erodes his spiritual aspirations to the point that he is just doing the business of running a church. This is a man most of us can relate to; we desire to do good, to choose what is best, but often get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent.
Other parts of this book were previously published as short stories also, both more than once. Chapter 10 of the book Good News, was published in the New Yorker and also the collection of short stories Look How The Fish Live. And chapters 16-18 in the novel, Priestly Fellowship, were also published in both of those publications previously.
The three parts of this story or movements are first, from youth to a curate to his first church as rector. The second is his middle years of ministry, and the third act, three independent stories about later in life. These three stories have an unusual quality about them. In some ways they feel like the three teaching lessons tacked onto the end of Daniel in the Deuterocanonical version - three separate stories each told with a specific purpose and meaning. These three have more humor than the rest of the book, almost as if Powers wanted to lighten the load at the end of the story for the readers.
The lasting power of this story is that Joe is everyman, in that he has beliefs and he desires to live up to those beliefs. Yet he ends up settling for something far below his original goals. I know that I and many men my age feel the same way; we are not where we expected to be, or doing what we expected to be doing with our lives, either in ministry or out. As such, the story's impact is that even though it is about a priest living and working in the ministry, it can serve as a mirror for all of us who read it, thus causing us to remember our original goals and aspirations and maybe inspiring us to live up to them. This is accomplished primarily by how well-written Joe is as a character and how well-written the novel is. This story was the culmination of Powers' Literary output. Some of these stories have undergone years of revisions and were crafted together into the novel we have now. Powers shaped and reshaped the stories, individually and collectively, to give us this masterpiece presented in three movements.
(First written for RS398 - The Religious Fiction of J.F. Powers.)
Look How the Fish Live by J.F. Powers Image Books, Alfred A. Knopf Ltd. New York, NY, 1975. This third collection of J.F. Powers' short stories was published twenty-eight years after his first collection and nineteen years after his second. All of the stories in this collection were previously published in magazines and newspapers, between 1957 and 1975. Unlike his earlier two collections, all of these stories have been previously published elsewhere. Another unique feature of this collection is that six of the ten stories are written in pairs, meaning that the stories are about the same characters or people.
The stories that are paired are the first and last stories: Look How the Fish Live and Tinkers, both of which appear to be autobiographical(I can find allusions to this assumption but no definite evidence; as such it is just opinion.) Next, the second and seventh stories, Bill and Priestly Fellowship respectively, are about Joe. Both also appear as chapters in the book Wheat that Springeth Green. And finally Keystone and Farewell are both about a bishop in a rural diocese of Ostergothenburg in Minnesota.
Therefore this collection has six religious short stories, 2 secular short stories, and the two autobiographical stories that seem to be a little of each. They are not as overtly religious as most of his fiction that falls into that category, but it does make reference to God and faith so it falls in between. Thus we will now examine each story separately.
Look How the Fish Live After reading this story combined with the last story in this collection, that is about the same family a few years later, the reader cannot but feel somewhat that it is autobiographical. Powers in his lifetime lived back and forth between the United States and Ireland. It appears that when money was good and he had an arts patron he moved the family to Ireland. When money became tight and he needed more income, he returned to the States and took up various teaching positions at different post secondary institutions.
In this story our protagonist, an unnamed parent, is preparing to bury an abandoned bird his children brought home. He is complaining to God about all the animals he has had to bury, and reflecting that the large wood lot has been sold to a university for a parking lot. While discussing the death and his weariness of nature, the neighbour misquotes Matthew 6:26 and we have the title 'Look How the fish Live.' This is a sad little story with overtures of environmentalism.
Bill In this story Father Joe gets his first assistant pastor. It functions well as a stand-alone short story but also fits well into the whole story of the novel Wheat That Springeth Green. Joe the Pastor is uncertain how to prepare for a curate; he does not want to have the experience he did with his first parish, but he does not know how to do it. So he feels awkward and the story shows that awkwardness. Folks This story does not seem to fit with the rest of Powers' canon. It alludes to 2 couples that were swingers and soon grew to four couples that vacationed together and had wonderful experiences. It seems to be written as part of a collection about one of the people in the story but it is unclear which one.
Keystone This story is very typical of Powers' short stories. It is about a rural Diocese in Minnesota, and focuses around the politics of the Chancery, and amongst clergy in general. The Bishop, John Dullinger, is currently at odds with his Chancellor Monsignor Holstein. Dullinger picks Father Gau as his new driver and assistant. Over the progression of the story Father Gau replaces Holstein as rector of the cathedral and steers the Bishop into many activities he previously avoided - public speaking, involvement with the youth and laity, and more. Gau also leads the bishop into building a new cathedral, but Dullinger becomes dissatisfied with the building and with Gau in the process.
One of Them This story is about a priest who is a convert, and his experiences at his first parish. It captures parish life from the view inside the rectory. Back in 1992, I lived in a small rectory in south eastern Ontario. This story could have been one of my personal experiences at that time. It is about a slightly weird thrifty rector, an eager young curate, or seminarian, and a housekeeper who tries to run the parish from the kitchen of the rectory.
Moonshot This short story, written as a play in three acts, is full of humour and sarcasm. It tells about a lunar landing just seven years before it actually took place. Yet the whole thing is just an attempt by two young men to get permission to have the hands of the women they love. The story is far less serious than any of Powers' others and as such is a unique contribution from his pen.
Priestly Fellowship This story continues some time after Bill, from earlier in this collection and in the novel Wheat that Springeth Green. In the novel there are 5 chapters separating the two short stories. In it Joe has an idealized vision of how priests should associate together and the types of conversations they should have. Unfortunately, because young Bill is of a different generation and Father Otto is with a religious order and not a parish priest, (even though he is in residence at the rectory and helping out with parish work), this story is a little sad and bittersweet, especially since it reminds us that often we do not live up to our expectations of ourselves. And Joe, as a member of the clergy, has even higher expectations for himself and those around him.
Farewell Continuing sometime after Keystone, Bishop Dullinger is about to retire and the conflict between him and his replacement Bishop Gau has only intensified. The story captures the politics that can exist in a diocese no matter how small, rural or traditional. It could have been written about most dioceses I have ever lived in and about clergy I know personally.
Pharisees This piece is an example of Powers' satire at its best. Short, concise and extremely funny.
Tinkers Returning to an autobiographical theme, this story continues after Look How the Fish Live. The family tight on money has been running a hotel. Then in the middle of the night they move out because the former landlord has returned home. Joseph Bottum in the magazine First Things, states about Powers: "Powers led an astonishingly uneventful life." And this story captures that feel, even if in reality it is not fact.
Steven Knight in his list of books to read states about J.F. Powers: "He is sometimes described as a writer's writer, meaning that he was an artist too good to gratify the most casual reader, but he was also a reader's writer, if we assume a reader who thinks of fiction as intelligent art rather than low entertainment." Furthermore Joseph Bottum
This collection of short stories has more focus and intention than the previous two collections. The overlapping stories in this volume, and the greater consistency in dealing primarily with religious matters and framing it in the context of autobiographical material gives it a cohesive feel. And that feel is the essence of Powers' writings and why those who encounter him, more often than not, become fans and continue to pursue his works again and again.
(First written for RS398 - The Religious Fiction of J.F. Powers.)
Morte d'Urban by J.F. Powers, Image Books, New York Review Of Books, New York, NY. 2000 (First published in 1962). This book won the 1963 National book award for fiction. It is the story of Father Urban, a man in the church but also a man of the world; a man just as comfortable in a five star hotel as a camp site. But he is also a man of ambition. He believes he should be leading the Clementines, and when at the General meeting, the current leader of the order retains his position, Urban is vanquished to the order's outpost in rural Minnesota. Powers has created a novel that is considered a classic in American literature, yet in many ways it is atypical.
The novel focuses around a factious religious order, the Clementines and a man in that order that is great at interacting with the world, but maybe not so religious. The Clementines are a mediocre order at best, and they know it. They went through a few years of success and growth, but things have been on a down turn. Men with vocations want an order with a history, like the Jesuits or Benedictines. Urban, our hero, feels the order needs to be more relevant, and as he is relegated to the sidelines in Minnesota, he does his best to turn that situation around and to make a comeback.
The greatest strength of Powers' writings, and this book in particular, are the characters. The people in this book seem real, hard, hardened and human, not lofty and overly good, not demons. Just humans trying to make their way in the world, humans full of faults and flaws. Another strength is the timeless nature of the story. Set before Vatican Council II, the story reads as if it is happening in Rural America today. The greatest weakness of the story is how Father Urban, a worldly man, a very bright, maybe even brilliant man can make so many mistakes when reading and interacting with people. An example is letting himself be trapped on an island with a young naked single woman in the chapter Belleisle.
Powers was a master with the pen. This novel, his first, was really a collection of continuous short stories, some previously published and some not. What Powers excelled at was his characters, and maybe because he wrote short stories, the characters needed to be complete. There are not a lot of extraneous descriptions in the novel. What drives it is the characters and the dialogue. There is a modern movement in literature called minimalism. Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, is considered the master of the style and creator of the format - books that read more like screen plays and cut from story to story or segment to segment. That is the style that Powers has in this book long before there was a name for it. Any maybe that is the best way to sum up this novel. It is a collection of stories set in and around Chicago, the home of the Clementines, or rural Minnesota and their mission outpost there. But it is also a collection of segments in Urban's life, each vignette ending with a poignant reflection on Urban or the world he lived in.
(First written for RS398 - The Religious Fiction of J.F. Powers.)
The Presence of Grace by J.F. Powers Image Books, Victor Gollancz Ltd. London, England 1957 (First published in 1956). This second collection of J.F. Powers' short stories was published nearly a decade after his first collection. The nine short stories were previously published between 1949 and 1956 in a variety of magazines including The Partisan Review, The New Yorker, Tomorrow, Commonweal, and Accent. This collection of Powers' short stories is very different from his first collection, The Prince of Darkness and Other Stories, in that this collection is almost exclusively Catholic-themed stories. This collection also avoids some of the political nature of the first collection, with no stories about racism or Antisemitism. Of the nine stories all but one have Catholic themes, and most revolve around the lives of priests.
Powers creates unique stories in that his writing style is minimalist before it was even recognized as a style. His stories are events and dialogue driven. Seldom does he go into extensive descriptions of locations, places or surroundings. When he does, the reader realizes that it is critical to the story. An example of this is the description of the furniture and environment in the basement in the story The Losing Game. The young curate is trying to get a desk from the Rector. They are down in the locked basement, and there is more description in this segment of this story than the rest of the book. Because of this lack of description, what carries these stories and gives them such power, is Powers' exceptional creation of characters, and his use of dialogue, both external and internal, to individual characters.
In this collection, we are also introduced to the Clementines - a factious religious order that is the focus of Powers' first novel Morte d'Urban. In the story, the Devil Was a Joker, we encounter a traveling salesman who hocks the literature of the Clementines and supplements his income with a variety of religious paraphernalia. But there are a few of the stories that have that Clementine feel; the Clementines are a middle-rate religious order, nowhere near as glorious as the Jesuits, and not as pathetic as the Missionary Oblates.
Powers presents priests in two categories, those who are adept at their jobs, and truly care about people and those who seem to be in it just as a business. The interesting thing about these stories is that even though they were all written before Vatican Council II, they can all be read as if they were written today and about today's priests and laypeople. These stories are about life - life as part of a faith community, a community that has both strengths and weaknesses just like the members who make up that community. As such he continues to speak to readers a half century after it was first published.
Dawn This is a quirky story about an envelope left in a collection plate addressed to the Pope. It causes much consternation both in the parish and in the office of the diocese. It is an example of how people can always fear the worse, and their own apprehension makes the situation worse.
Death of a Favorite This is the first of two stories told from the perspective of a cat. In this collection, combined with Defection of a Favorite, they tell the story of a rectory where the Pastor refers to the cat as his curate. Father Malt likes to make fun of Father Bruner, his real assistant, by claiming the cat is his assistant. The story is a little unusual from Powers, in being told in the first person and that person being a pet cat.
The Poor Thing This is the story of an elderly woman, Teresa, whose pension just does not make ends meet. As such, she takes some work as a personal-aid worker to a woman in a wheel chair, Dolly. Both characters are to be pitied for their situations in life and their inability to deal with them appropriately. Both are Catholic and Dolly uses her faith as a weapon to make Teresa feel guilt and to do things she does not really want to do.
The Devil Was the Joker This is a story about the Clementines. Or rather about a traveling salesman Mac, who represents them to dioceses and parishes around the country, trying to sell their booklets and magazines. But it is also the story of Myles, a failed seminarian who is trying to find a way to have a Vocation. Mac meets Myles while Mac is in the hospital and Myles is working as an orderly. Myles is enlisted to assist in this work, with the lure of it being a vocation and could maybe help him get into the fold of the Clementines. However Myles soon learns Macs' religious rhetoric is just a game and he will sell anything, including playing cards with angels and devils on them.
A Losing Game This and the final story are about a parish where Father Fabre is a curate and there is an unnamed pastor. In this instalment the curate gleans insight into the pastor's character and ambition, all the while trying to get a desk out of the pastor for his typewriter in his room. In the process, he is shot while the pastor is trying to kill rats in the basement. The story is a little humorous but really does not feel completed until we read the final story, The Presence of Grace where the story of these two continues at some point later in time.
Defection of a Favorite In this story Father Malt has been injured and is in hospital for most of the story. During that time, Father Bruner goes through a transformation from being a little self-centered and obtuse to really living and working for the ministry into which he was apparently called. The animosity and antagonism between Bruner and the cat also end, and they become friends and the cat attempts to assist Bruner when the Bishop visits.
Zeal The Bishop is on the beginning of a pilgrimage journey to Rome, when an old classmate introduces him to Father Early just before the departure from Saint Paul, Minnesota. During the train ride to Chicago the Bishop is initially put off by the aggressive and outgoing priest. However, he soon realizes that the priest is really just zealous for God and does all he tries to do, however misguided, because of that zeal.
Blue Island This is the only secular story in this collection. It is an odd story about a housewife, who is a newlywed and moves to her husband's home town, Blue Island. Her husband is quirky and even though he saved the family business he does not really fit in. Like many of Powers' stories, this one is about someone who is a bit of an underachiever and this causes him to put undue pressure on his wife.
The Presence of Grace In this story young Father Fabre makes a mistake. He decides to visit a parishioner without clearing it with the pastor. In doing so he opens a large can of worms. Once he realizes his mistake, he waits for the pastor's return in fear and trepidation. However the pastor calms him and meets with the Women's League and deflects them as well. All this time Fabre had thought the pastor was holding him back and not very effectively. In this instalment he realizes the wisdom in the pastor's long silences and idiosyncratic ways. (First written for RS398 - The Religious Fiction of J.F. Powers.)