Tammy Marshall, "Novel Thoughts"

With 35 of the Pulitzer Prize winners of fiction remaining for me to read, I’m getting closer to completing my goal of reading them all. I just finished reading the 1962 winner, “The Edge of Sadness,” by Edwin O’Connor. It was a pleasant read but also a bit of an undertaking for a few reasons.

First, this novel is 640 pages long, so it can’t be read easily in a short amount of time.

Additionally, there are only 12 long chapters (chapter six is 109 pages) within those 640 pages, and there is seldom a clear or logical stopping place, so putting the book down and coming back to it later makes for a disjointed reading experience.

I have no beef with long books — in fact, I’m quite fond of them — however, I do have a problem with excessively long chapters that can’t be easily read in one sitting.

Secondly, O’Connor was very fond of ellipses at the end of paragraphs (there are three instances of them on pages 148 and 149 alone).

THE NOVEL is narrated by Hugh Kennedy, a Catholic priest, who, in turn, is fond of using expressions of uncertainty like “I suppose,” “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to,” “I assumed,” and many others; so the overuse of ellipses throughout the story along with Kennedy’s equivocal approach to telling his story makes for a lackluster read at times.

At other times, the story clips along a bit and ... —hopefully you get the point (and the slight joke I just made).

Third, there’s not much of a plot, per se. It’s simply about Kennedy reconnecting with the Carmody family for a few months.

The Carmodys and he have a history. He was good friends with Helen, a woman he might have married if he hadn’t had the calling to become a priest, and with John, Helen’s brother who also became a priest. Their controlling father, Charlie, brings Kennedy back among his family for a very selfish reason.

That and something unfortunate that happens to John are the only two dramatic plot points of the novel.

Loyola Classics took this from its out-of-print obscurity and republished it in 2005.

Loyola Press only prints books that relate to the Catholic faith. I’m not Catholic; however, I’ve long been intrigued by the monastic or even semi-monastic lifestyle, so I found it extremely interesting to get inside the head of a priest.

EVEN THOUGH Kennedy hemmed and hawed a lot as he told his story, his voice was incredibly unique, authentic, and befitting of a priest.

However, he’s also a human being with foibles and one pretty serious problem, so I really enjoyed seeing someone who is so often placed on a pedestal written in a relatable fashion. In fact, Kennedy himself says, “I don’t think many people know very much about priests ... how priests live from day to day, how they fill in their idle hours.” I agree.

Despite the things I’ve mentioned that might keep some readers from attempting this novel, “The Edge of Sadness” won the Pulitzer because it’s well-written and contains some truly beautiful sentences with insights into human nature.

It’s a great book for someone who likes to savor what she’s reading and who is patient.

Ultimately, because I am both of those things, I enjoyed this book, but I would have a hard time recommending it to many others.

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Contact Marshall at tamreader@gmail.com.

Next month’s reading selection is “All the Gallant Men” by Donald Stratton with Ken Gire.


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