The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor's Disappearance

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Overview

A young, charismatic African-American pastor disappears from his local parish of W—, a comfortable bedroomcommunity in suburban New England. In the backlash and impending investigation, no satirical stone is left unturned, especially those within the Caruso household, an ordinary American family hollowed out by their world of convenience and easy moral remedies.
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Overview

A young, charismatic African-American pastor disappears from his local parish of W—, a comfortable bedroomcommunity in suburban New England. In the backlash and impending investigation, no satirical stone is left unturned, especially those within the Caruso household, an ordinary American family hollowed out by their world of convenience and easy moral remedies.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Writing with the same panache he brought to his clever first novel, An Underachiever's Diary, Anastas again proves himself a smart literary voice. Punctuated by breathless, run-on sentences that impart a hectic feel to the narrative, this is a subversive and funny satire of American materialism and spirituality. Just after Easter Sunday, Rev. Thomas Mosher goes missing from his Congregational church in a Boston suburb. The circumstances were unusual before he disappeared: Thomas is black and ministers to a white congregation that has no idea of the loneliness and self-doubt that plagues their pastor. One faction of the church council, led by hard-driving realtor Martha Howard, thinks that Thomas's abrupt departure may be traced to an affair with married Bethany Caruso. Then again, Martha is a bitter woman, disappointed in her feckless husband and drug-dealing college dropout son. After finding a randy letter tucked inside the parsonage's back door, Martha feels vindicated and takes action. Most of the narrative, however, belongs to Bethany. Highly nervous, Zoloft-dependent, spiritually bereft, yet a loving mother to her two young children, she is an oddly compelling heroine. Returning to the church, she hopes, will satisfy her vague longings what she doesn't guess is that she will be called upon to succor Thomas. In depicting Thomas's inner thoughts a murky m lange of sexual longing, cynicism, jealousy and ugly self-justification Anastas bluntly conveys the poignancy of unfulfilled lives. His unsparing take on the emptiness and desperation of a materialist society sparkles with dry wit and a generous understanding of human complexities. (May) Forecast: The cult following that Grand Street editor Anastas established with his first book should increase with this adroit and urbane novel. If he is as articulate as his fiction suggests, he will have a good run on talk shows. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This rueful second novel by Anastas (An Underachiever's Diary) opens with a mystery: the Rev. Thomas Mosher of the Pilgrims' Congregational Church in suburban Massachusetts has disappeared. Was the young black man driven out by his pseudo-liberal white congregants, or was he fleeing the private sorrow he seemed to carry around with him? Or was the rumored affair between him and gorgeous-but-married Bethany Caruso too much for his conscience? The congregants soon grow uneasy, especially Bethany, whom, we learn quickly, really was carrying on a torrid affair with her spiritual adviser. The novel gently mixes wry observations on Mosher's mostly sanctimonious flock the unbearable Margarent Howard is particularly well drawn with a darker story of wrecked hopes and irreconcilable desires. In the end, the story is more Bethany's than Thomas's as she learns to accept his loss and her responsibilities. It's frustrating, though, that we never really learn what went wrong for Thomas; his disappearance starts to feel like a device, and some of the targets Anastos hits religious smugness, frustrated spouses seem a little too easy. Still, this is a thoughtful enough read; for larger collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/01.] Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374152147
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.77 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Benjamin Anastas is the author of An Underachiever’s Diary. His short fiction has been published in GQ and Story Magazine and his reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Observer, FEED Magazine, The New Republic online, The Washington Post Book World, and many other publications.
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Read an Excerpt

The founding member of the Monday Reflection Group noticed first, arriving at the church to find the pastor's driveway empty and the curtains in the parsonage still drawn, but she knew nothing of his sudden and astonishing disappearance, not yet, only that the Reverend Thomas Mosher, well-liked minister of the Pilgrims' Congregational Church ("An Historic Church with a Modern Message" they included below their name in all the literature) in W——-, Massachusetts, spiritual mentor to his well-heeled but undeniably eccentric congregants, author of competent — if sometimes esoteric — Sunday sermons heavy on the Book of Psalms, culminating in his very last one, "The Shapes of Love," which had veered away from the usual Easter Cycle to explore the possibility that God is an "infinite sphere," an idea that had bored some members of the church dumb and had seemed to others inappropriate for a Trinitarian; eligible bachelor rumored to have carried on an affair with a married woman in the church, Bethany Caruso (née Coleman), the mother of a preteen son and pious daughter widely considered angelic, if, at times, unusually frank when speaking to adults, and prone to disruptive behavior during Sunday school, the product, many believed, of Bethany's frequent separations from her husband (not a regular churchgoer), making her, already envied for her smoldering good looks and close relationship with the pastor, the object of persistent disapproval, despite the fact that an adulterous tryst between the two had never been confirmed, and the Reverend Mosher, according to the local women who openly pursued him — Sadie Maxwell, flashy owner of the town's leather boutique; twice-divorced Alessandra Palacios y Rio, self-styled socialite and beneficiary of a Hollywood divorce settlement — showed no interest in matters of the flesh, possessing, as he did, an awkward bearing in the world of men and women, little sense for the subtleties of flirtation and its deeper second step, seduction; truth be told, the Reverend Mosher seemed comfortable only at the pulpit, draped in his black Geneva gown and elevated slightly above his audience, able to communicate with an ease that usually escaped him, projecting authority with his lovely voice (they all agreed that, with their eyes closed during the morning prayers, his intonation could often be transporting), while in life he was acutely absentminded, a chronic mumbler, famous for calling members of the church by the wrong name, as well as accident-prone (how many times had he driven his car, the unfortunately named Ford Probe, off the road? The product of relentless dreaming), known for his inept pitching in church league softball, and sloppy housekeeping, according to the Thursday Housekeepers, who grew so tired of scrubbing down the parsonage they pooled their resources and hired a cleaning woman; no, the Reverend Mosher was not like the dull and energetic middle managers who had lately moved to town for a short commute and joined the congregation out of some imagined duty, who talked too loud among themselves and, but for a few opening minutes, paid little attention to his painstakingly prepared sermons, although there were notable exceptions, troubled men who had no choice but to display their depth, like high-strung Carlo Wagner, a physicist with a wide repertoire of nervous tics (clearing his throat, touching his glasses, pinching the end of his nose, scratching his ear with an index finger, and twitching, all in no particular order), or Ed Brooks, a school administrator who was obviously manic depressive, but refused his wife's attempts to have him seek counseling and — this was her ardent hope, expressed in weekly talks with the Reverend Mosher — a prescription for antidepressants, no longer a stigma in the community, or even a topic of gossip and/or debate, quite the opposite: Paxil and Zoloft had long since entered the local vocabulary, and stood, now, for happiness and hope, as if a tablet could ever contain these illusory states of being, reinventing the founding principles of W——-, Massachusetts, as well as of every other place in the New World chosen by displaced men and women for settlement: a belief in the value of work, the importance of family, the dominion of God over all things personal and political . . . The pastor was a complicated man and seemed to live across some subtle divide from life, certainly from happiness, and often from the members of his congregation, still he was an admired figure on the pulpit (already mentioned) and in the church office, the scene of so many helpful — if halting — conversations, and, as the black leader of a traditionally white church (although this, too, was changing), the object of some pride, as if his position were irrefutable evidence of their forward-thinking politics and enlightened Christianity; but no one in the church — not one worshipper out of a scant few hundred souls — could have predicted the events that began to unfold on the fine spring morning in question, when the Monday Reflection Group, such as it was, convened at the appointed time, and the Reverend Thomas Mosher was missing.

  

Copyright © 2001 Benjamin Anastas

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Reading Group Guide

In the small, mainly white well-to-do Boston suburb of W_____ during the mid-1990s, the young, charismatic black pastor of the Pilgrims' Congregational Church suddenly vanishes. Why? Where did he go? Who saw him last? What would have, or who could have, caused him to leave? When will he return? Or will he, ever? The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor's Disappearance, the title of which deftly and deliberately nods to a famous Jonathan Edwards sermon of 1737, is a perceptive, compelling, and often laugh-out-loud novel of the many paradoxes of today's New England: new cultural values and old religious traditions, liberalism and provincialism, acceptance and prejudice. With a richly varied and wholly representative cast of characters-the parishioners who, each and all, discover, are affected by, and finally must surmount the pastor's absence-this is a blistering yet insightful satire of religion and real estate, suburbs and sex-drives, adultery and the American Dream. Benjamin Anastas offers a novel that, as Newsday observed, "is a mighty good read. The characters and their social milieu are wonderfully drawn, and the writing is sardonic and memorable."

Discussion Questions:
1. With page after page of suburban boredom, consumer-culture excess, marital disillusion, psychological medication, drug and alcohol dependency, and unfulfilling careers in meaningless jobs, this novel paints an ugly picture of contemporary American society. Begin your discussion by addressing the purposes and targets of the satire in these pages.

2. Chapter One of The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor's Disappearance is actually one long sentence. What does this feat of grammar as well as gossip reveal about the book's structure, narrator, plot, setting, and/or characters?

3. Examine the tone of the omniscient narrator of this "faithful narrative." Also, describe the attitudes or impressions Benjamin Anastas seems to have regarding his characters, their priorities, and their predicaments? What do you make of the language used by this author to tell his tale? And what about the title? Does it seem ironic to you? Explain why or why not. Also, discuss the italicizing of certain words throughout the story. Based on the language of this novel, how would you characterize the narrator's -- and the author's-feelings about religion, faith, churchgoing, and the like.

4. Although the Rev. Thomas Mosher is "missing" over the whole course of the novel, and is thus described and encountered only through flashbacks, we learn a lot about his personal background and private identity. Describe his personality, secrets, likes and dislikes, and general disposition. What do certain members of his congregation admire about him? What do other members find lacking in him? Look back to the scene in Chapter Four where the pastor sits alone in a pew at the back of the church and stares at the stained-glass windows on either side of him. Which particular window reminds Thomas of himself, and why? And why is he able to see "himself in both halves of the picture"?

5. Discuss how race, class, gender, identity politics, individual spirituality, and political correctness are addressed in this narrative. How do the main characters -especially Thomas Mosher, Kate Moore, Artemesia Angelis, Margaret Howard, the Caruso family, and the Swedish nanny Ulla-think and feel about these issues? If and when these issues are treated satirically in the novel, to what end-or for what larger purpose or reason-is such satire proffered? Identify any social and political points made in the text of The Faithful Narrative.

6. Explore this novel's many suspenseful elements. In what ways does the story fully rely on matters of suspense and perplexity? Also, consider the pastor's disappearance as a literary mystery, a whodunit, providing as many clues, red herrings, motives, and suspects as you can. Moreover, consider the book's depiction of the mystery of faith itself-both that of the Holy Trinity and that of how people can have, find, develop, or seek out faith in the first place. What are the key puzzles or mysteries in this story? How, if at all, are they answered? Which questions remain unanswered?

7. Ultimately, The Faithful Narrative is as much about the disillusion and near-breakdown of a beautiful yet deeply depressed working mother in suburban Massachusetts as it is about a melancholy pastor who suddenly turns up missing. Identify the crises afflicting Bethany Caruso as the novel begins, as well as the problems she encounters as the story develops. What are the personal crises that she is running from? And which problems is she finally willing to face? What important decisions does Bethany make for herself at the end of Chapter Nine?

8. Describe the love affair between Thomas and Bethany. What does each individual find in the other, especially at the outset of their affair? As the affair continues, when do the two of them seem closest, most joyful, most at peace? And when do they come off as aimless, agitated, unsure of their prospects as lovers? And why does Bethany, in the final chapter, decide to visit the address (in a neighboring town) listed for Thomas's mother? Were you surprised by this? Explain why or why not.

9. Throughout the narrative, much thought is given by the various characters to the last sermon that Thomas delivered before he disappeared. How do they regard the pastor's de facto parting remarks? Or do they even comprehend them? What was the title of this sermon, and what was it about? Explain the relationship between the sermon and the larger themes of the novel.

10. Reread the epigraph that begins The Faithful Narrative, a quotation from Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century Puritan minister (whose thoughts and writings are often echoed by those of Thomas Mosher). What connections can you identify between the meaning of this quotation and the meaning(s), in your own estimation, of the novel itself?

About the Author:
Benjamin Anastas is the author of An Underachiever's Diary. His short fiction has been published in GQ and Story Magazine and his reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Observer, FEED Magazine, The Washington Post Book World, and other publications. He lives in New York City.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Weak and Hectoring

    Makes Franzen look like a lover of humanity.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2002

    Loved It!

    Benjamin Anastas is my hero. I loved both his books. 'The Pastor...' was great, however, do not read this book while visiting the bath room, I wound up like Danny Glover in 'Lethal Weapon', only I did'nt have my daredevil, bi-level hair cut detective side kick to pull me of the can.

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