Friday, February 08, 2008

THE SUBSTANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR by John B. Breslin, S.J.

The Book: THE SUBSTANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR: Short Fiction by Modern Catholic Authors, selected and with an introduction by John B. Breslin, S.J. Doubleday, 1987 (first edition). Fine book in good dust jacket; dust jacket is rubbed and chipped at corners and spine.
First read: 1989
Owned since: 1989

Father Breslin taught at Georgetown when I was there; I knew him slightly, but never took a class with him. I admired his beard, which was reddish and well-kept. It's strange to think that he was probably younger then than I am now.

Anyway, I picked up this book used somewhere, and was delighted to find it. Like any good anthology, it introduced me to authors I'd never quite gotten around to -- Muriel Spark, Andre Dubus, John McGahern -- and authors I'd never heard of, like Breece D'J Pancake and Shusaku Endo.

Breslin avoids the obvious choices, or the obvious stories by the essential authors -- F. Scott Fitzgerald is not here, and the Flannery O'Connor story is "The Enduring Chill," rather than "Everything that Rises Must Converge," or "Revelation."

In his introduction, Breslin discusses his choices. He wanted stories that explored "that tension between celebrating the 'open-ended mystery of matter' and confronting the limitations of human weakness and sinfulness," and sums up the whole of my experience with the Jesuits with this line: "I once had a Jesuit classics professor who claimed that unless you felt tempted toward pantheism at some point, you would never really understand Catholicism."

The title of this collection is a quotation from Paul's letter to the Hebrews: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." As long as we have faith, we have hope; despair is the loss not only of hope but of faith, and thus the one unforgivable sin.

Not coincidentally, I'm going up to Bangor tomorrow afternoon to see Barack Obama, and might not have time to post in the morning. We are the ones we've been waiting for.

What I Read This Week

William Horwood and Helen Rappaport, Dark Hearts of Chicago. A historical mystery set at the World Exposition of 1893; reporter Emily Strauss searches for the truth behind the disappearance of young Anna Zemeckis. The historical detail is impressive, but bogs down the story.

William Landay, The Strangler. Three Boston brothers -- a cop, a prosecutor, and a professional thief -- come to grips with the damage done to their lives by the Boston Strangler and the Boston mob. A compelling family drama, with moments of true horror.

4 comments:

Claire said...

Fitzgerald would be too obvious a choice, but one of his strongest short-short stories, "Absolution", is a pretty brilliant portrayal of a very young boy's relationship with the Catholic Church.

Ed Lamb said...

Are you caucassing for Obama come Sunday? Demographics dictate that vote for Clinton. That and voter fraud, like what went down in New Hampshire.

-- Ed

AnswerGirl said...

Of COURSE I am caucusing for Obama tomorrow.

And Claire, I almost mentioned "Absolution" specifically as an obvious choice that's not in this book -- but Breslin says in his introduction that he wanted a selection of post-Vatican II stories, so the selections from Graham Greene and Flannery O'Connor are later ones.

SRMcEvoy said...

That Elusive Story
is a piece I wrote about this book, that haunted me for more than a decade. I am currently working on a series about the specific story The Warm Sand by J.F. Powers. This truly is a great collection.