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Posted December 28, 2010
"Confessions" by Ryne Douglas Pearson is a powerfully written work that brilliantly weaves a gripping plot-driven work of commercial fiction into a richly textured literary study about the inner emotional life of a young priest. Father Michael Jerome is a Catholic priest and chaplain to the Chicago Police Department. As the son of a retired Chicago cop, as well as Holy Mother Church, Fr. Jerome surely understands the many nuances of both sin and grace. Certainly, he is able to help people rise from the wreckage of their failed lives and find the moral high ground. It is not something he can do for himself, however. Pearson opens the story with the persistent ring of a phone that jars Fr. Mike awake from a haunting dream about his murdered sister. The call that wakes the chaplain will actually propel him into a real nightmare worse than any his own troubled mind could possibly conjure. The contrast between Fr. Mike's dreams and the intrusive reality of the telephone is a great opening; it thrusts the reader immediately into both the gut wrenching pain that stalks the interior life of the young priest, as well as his gritty exterior world of police, emergency rooms, grieving families, and desperate, dying men. Called to the ER to minister to a cop shot on duty, Chaplain Mike ends up at the bedside of the criminal responsible for the police shooting. The shooter is a desperate sinner begging for absolution before death; in particular, he seeks forgiveness not for shooting the cop but rather for another crime, a sin he knows was the most monstrous of his whole sordid life. It is, however, the one sin Mike Jerome cannot forgive, not even when called to act solely in the name of God. The perp's deathbed confession will rewrite Mike Jerome's entire life. This book grabbed my attention right from the beginning and never let me down. "Confessions" worked for me on numerous levels. First of all, Pearson is a very talented author and I love how he can be both terse and eloquent at the same time. Secondly, he writes with a realism that makes sense; nothing is too fantastical and I like that, especially because it's appropriate to his genre. He also avoids clichés, something that too often clutters cop stories - especially when you throw in priests, available women, and family conflicts; make any of them Irish and it's really problematic. Pearson avoids such pitfalls. I also appreciate that he's not afraid to kick it up a notch by offering up a protagonist who is both a man of action and contemplation. Writing action or narration is relatively easy; writing contemplation so that it also moves the story along as effectively as either requires great talent. I think, however, where "Confessions" most shines is in its unpredictable ending. I almost always know the ending well before I read it; Pearson's ending, however, took me by complete surprise. The element of horror, that moment when the cold reality of the totally unthinkable begins to emerge from the story, reminded me of some of the past greats in American literature and film. At the end of "Confessions" I was seriously thinking about Faulkner ("A Rose for Miss Emily"), Shirley Jackson ("The Lottery") and of course Alfred Hitchcock (too many films to mention). "Confessions" is a different take on the usual cop story but it is one absolutely worth reading. Don't pass it up.
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