In 1962, when Vatican II was corrupting the Catholic Church by trying to make it “a warm and fuzzy place,” writes Veronica Chater, her father became convinced that the movement would incite an apocalypse. He uprooted his wife and eight children from San Jose, California, to a village near Fatima, Portugal. There, he was shocked to find that colloquial prayers had replaced the Latin Mass. A year later, defeated and broke, the family returned to California to join an underground counterrevolutionary movement. Written in the present tense, Chater’s memoir possesses the raw energy of a kid; it’s like watching the action unfold from beneath a dining room table. Chater grew increasingly skeptical about her parents’ devotion to traditionalism, which inspired them to set up temporary churches in a string of department stores and truck garages. Left to figure out her own path, Chater had never been taught how to behave beyond just not sinning, and she stumbled. After dropping out of high school to work at McDonald’s, she spent all of her money buying a parrot, which escaped, whereupon she tried to rescue the bird from a treetop. Falling fifty feet through the air, she was overcome with the knowledge that “God was good,” as close as she comes to illuminating her own faith. The story of how she untangled herself to land on her feet ends abruptly, although the conclusion is beside the point; as with all wild coming-of-age journeys, getting there is all the fun.
About the Author
Sarah Norris, arts editor of The Villager, has reviewed books for The New Yorker, Village Voice, Time Out New York, and other publications.