THERE YOUR HEART LIES
By Mary Gordon
320 pp. Pantheon Books. $26.95.
Mary Gordon is the bard of the American Catholic experience. She’s preternaturally talented, but her reputation has been unfairly shadowed by certain assumptions about Catholicism — in other words, that Philip Larkin was right about religion being a “vast moth-eaten musical brocade.”
I’ve felt a kinship with Larkin ever since I stumbled on his 1974 collection “High Windows” in my high school library and sat transfixed, reading the title poem. As a cradle Catholic who has lapsed and returned more times than I care to consider, I have a special need for his elegiac asperity when it comes to lost faith. Yet I also learned that Catholicism was nothing to be ashamed of from the avant-garde film critic P. Adams Sitney, the first intellectual Catholic I had the great luck to study with. If a man who helped found the Anthology Film Archives and counted the groundbreaking director Jonas Mekas as a friend sincerely believed that Christ rose from the dead, maybe I could watch the resurrection of the wife in Carl Dreyer’s “Ordet” with credulous wonder after all.
Gordon has managed to write from Larkin’s and Sitney’s perspectives at the same time. Like Larkin, she’s an ironic progressive. Like Sitney, she’s a practicing Catholic. But her vantage point is a lonely one. Pope Francis seems to act like a liberal believer, and his adoring crowds seem to want that too. Yet the church hasn’t reformed its positions on abortion, homosexuality or celibacy. Forgiveness is wonderful, but did Francis have to shake hands with Bill O’Reilly at the Vatican?
Gordon’s fiction traverses the Catholic world like a submarine, diving to the depths of its monstrosities and surfacing into the secular world to reveal intimate knowledge of what lies…