Friday, May 02, 2014

Open Season

During a week of vacation after Easter I pulled The Son of a Certain Woman by Wayne Johnston out of the bookshelf where it has been waiting for me these past few months.

Johnston is an exceptional writer and both The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and Navigator of New York should be on every Canadian's list of novels to be read. A blurb for The Son of a Certain Woman offers:

From one of Canada’s most acclaimed, beloved storytellers: The Son of a Certain Woman is Wayne Johnston’s funniest, sexiest novel yet, controversial in its issues, wise, generous and then some in its depiction of humanity.

So, with relish I started this new novel about a boy named Percy Joyce, born with a serious disfigurement, and Johnston's writing didn't let me down. As I progressed I became somewhat uneasy with the Oedipus Complex aspect of the book. In the end though it was the unrelenting contempt for the Roman Catholic church through the portrayal of virtually everyone connected to it which led to my relief when it was over. Oedipus stories are generally creepy, in my estimation, but the way the rather perverse proclivities of young Percy is interwoven with the unrelentingly negative portrayal of Catholicism, including the sacraments, left me feeling rather ill. This is not Johnston's funniest novel, but it feels like his most vitriolic.

I wondered aloud to my wife Ruth whether a novel written with comparable contempt for another religion, such as Judaism or Islam, would have been published in Canada. Honestly, at times the book felt like a vendetta against the Roman Catholic church, filled with caricatures and some obscene imagery.

Now, I should say that I am aware of the horrendous harm of sexual abuse in Newfoundland, and the cover-up by Roman Catholic authorities was systemic and shameful. The demolition of the Mount Cashel school run by the Christian Brothers was entirely necessary because what happened within its walls was evil. I am no apologist for the Roman Catholic church and I wondered how Pope John Paul II could be declared a saint when his papacy spanned many of the years where child sexual abuse was so prevalent.

I do know that there were and are many faithful Roman Catholic priests and nuns and brothers who had nothing to do with this tragedy.

Novels aren't meant to be history, and Johnston has pointed this out when taken to task for liberties in some of his other books. Still, yuck.

Well, what do I really think! Have you read The Son of a Certain Woman and come to different conclusions? Do I protest too much? Is it "open season" on religion these days?

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