Unlocking the past of a sex abuse scandal

Jennifer Haigh, Faith: A Novel, HarperCollins

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Two images permeate Jennifer Haigh’s novel Faith: deep water and light. Both images have enriched human expression since human beings first began telling stories.

Haigh, a New York Times bestselling novelist, ingeniously employs the image of the deep to describe the nature of mature human relationships between men and women and the risks inherent in such relationships. 

The novel ultimately turns on deep water and the surge of fear that prevents many men and women from diving into either the swirl of the ocean surf or the unknown of a meaningful relationship. Those who are disturbed by the deep stay in the shallows or choose solitude over the vulnerability inherent in giving oneself in love to another person.

The form of Haigh’s novel is driven by the second image. The book represents a set of portraits emerging from Sheila McGann’s family history. Sheila’s account centres around her half-brother Arthur, a priest of the archdiocese of Boston, who is accused of sexually abusing a child during the height of the sexual abuse scandal in the spring of 2002. 

In her narration, Sheila brings her family secrets from the shadows of the past to the light of the present, in much the same way the Catholic Church was forced to examine its own past and bring what lay hidden there into the light. In the course of presenting her brother Art’s story, Sheila learns a great deal about her mother, Mary, her brother Michael and her father, Ted.

The book is an examination of faith and also of doubt, the storms of alcoholism, resentment, ageing, failed relationships and the consequences of self-delusion and dishonesty. It is a juxtaposition of a peculiar man — a man transformed into a priest before he actually became a man — and his younger brother who exudes manhood — an athletic former cop turned successful real estate agent and father of three.


Put Out Into the Deep (America)


Jennifer Haigh

Q & A with Faith author Jennifer Haigh (Vogue)


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