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In this well-written and comprehensive volume on Catholic writing in the United States, Ross Labrie focuses on works that meet three criteria: high intellectual and artistic achievement, authorship by a practicing Roman Catholic, and a focus on Catholic themes. Labrie begins with a discussion of the Catholic imagination and sensibility and considers the relationship between art and Catholic theology and philosophy.
Central to Catholic belief is the doctrine of the Incarnation, wherein human experience and the natural world are perceived as both flawed and redeemed. This doctrine can be seen as the axis on which Catholic American literature in general rests and from which variances by particular authors can be measured. The optimism implied in this doctrine, together with an inherited American political consciousness, allowed a number of Catholic authors, from a culture otherwise perceived as outside the American mainstream, to identify with a political idealism that granted dignity to the individual.
Counterpointing this emphasis on the individual, though, is the doctrine of the church as an intermediary between God and humanity and the belief in the community of saints. In concert with the doctrine of the Incarnation, these teachings gave Catholic writing a communal and prophetic dimension aimed at the whole of American society.
Separate chapters are included for each of the writers considered so that the distinctiveness of their works is elucidated, as well as the unity and the rich diversity of Catholic American writing in general. Some of the authors considered are Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Thomas Merton, and Mary Gordon.
A concluding chapter examines the significance of the corpus of Catholic American writing in the years 1940 to 1980, considering it parallel in substance to the body of Jewish American literature of the same period. The Catholic Imagination in American Literature fills a distinctive place in the study of American literature.