"Thought provoking…beautifully observed"—Parade
"[A] beautiful, enthralling novel."—The Chicago Tribune
"In this well-wrought work, Donatich succeeds in wringing our hearts as well as challenging our minds."—Dallas Morning News
"Debut novelists can be counted on to bring fresh voices, diverse story lines, and singular characters…Father Dominic, the beleaguered protagonist of The Variations, a priest who loses his church, his mentor, and even his ability to pray."—PW, First Fiction
"This … richly layered novel…is a solid debut"—PW
"Donatich manages to avoid clichés in what could have been another trendy defamation of the Catholic Church, for Father Dominic emerges as a fully fleshed character, both tormented and lost."—Kirkus, Starred Review
"[S]uperb…this book kept me long, long after bedtime"—Library Journal
"This first novel by Yale University Press director Donatich explores with considerable insight the intriguing premise of a man of the cloth in a spiritual crisis."—Booklist
"This novel provides food for thought and discussion."—Library Journal
"This book deserves quiet and respectful praise. I was very moved by it. Individual sentences are filled with precision and intelligence. I suppose it is, itself, a variation, in terms of its improvisations on an expected theme, the improbabilities recognized and realized, and its humane take on the world. What a surprising, beautiful book."—Ann Beattie, author of The New Yorker Stories
"Though The Variations documents harsh personal upheavals, it is characterized by great poise and dignity. With his talent for finding beauty in the dingiest corners and insights in the most confounding situations, John Donatich has given us a novel with staying power. It's impossible not to be utterly absorbed by this book."—Joanna Scott, author of the Ambassador Book Award winning Liberation
"Toward the end of this moving and highly unusual novel, its hero Dominic remarks: 'It is God that is primary, individual, irreducible. All the rest variations on a theme." These variations preoccupy the major characters in this deeply poetic and fiercely imagined book. Novels that approach matters of faith are rarely, and rarely good. But John Donatich has written a beautiful and thoughtful meditation on faith and its fate in the modern world, on listening, loving, living. The Variations plays any number of variations on the themes of love and loss in its myriad forms. It's a novel I will pass eagerly among friends."—Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and The Passages of H.M.
"Catholic writers in America have not found much excitement in theology. John Donatich goes a long way towards repairing that lack with this beautiful novel about a contemporary priest who can't help contemplating the failure of his rundown urban church as his own inner failure…The author has a poet's feel for image, which he confers upon his priest with breathtaking effect…There is genuine suspense, a sense of life or death importance, in this thoughtful novel about what Father Dominic will choose to do as well as about the fates of his parishioners."—Jaimy Gordon, author of the National Book Award winning Lord of Misrule
"A novel of priests, pianists, hysterics, dry drunks, urban decay, and above all the irresistible drive to achieve transcendence, even while you know it can’t be done by trying. When these people pray or make music they know they have to master an art form and give up hope of mastering it at the same time. Their dilemmas are old, universal, perfect. Donatich doesn’t believe in the kind of orthodoxy that obliterates doubts and declares a permanent winner to contests inside the soul. He seems to believe in a continuous struggle between what we can and can’t do on our own, a faith of variations that will keep on changing from one day to the next because it’s alive."—Salvatore Scibona, author of The End
Dominick is a fortysomething priest in an inner-city parish. After the death of the pastor, Father Carl, Dom's hopes of a promotion are dashed when he learns that his parish is slated for closure. As he determines his next steps, he copes with a troubled teenager and his own crisis of faith. An aspiring African American classical pianist, his elderly teacher, and her work-obsessed daughter round out the cast of characters in this first novel by Donatich, director of Yale University Press. Donatich does a creditable job portraying the issues and challenges of contemporary Catholicism, and Dom is a believably flawed and human figure, though some of the supporting characters are a bit underdeveloped. Much of the book consists of philosophical musings as the characters (particularly Dom) wrestle with the meaning and purpose of faith. This leads to a lot of reporting of what they are thinking and feeling, without much in the way of plot or dialog. VERDICT For those interested in the place of religious faith in the modern world, this novel provides food for thought and discussion. [See Prepub Alert, 9/23/11.]—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
The title refers both to the Goldberg Variations and to "variations" in the priestly life of Father Dominic at Our Lady of Fatima. Dominic has to adjust to the first variation after the death of his predecessor, Father Carl, a much-loved and wise old priest. Father Carl had looked out for Dolores, a troubled 16-year-old, both free-spirited and erratic, but Dominic hasn't the light and loving touch of Father Carl, who saw Dolores as "one of God's special cases, given us to know Him better." Dominic is instead simply bewildered by her wild, irrational outbursts. Meanwhile, Our Lady of Fatima is meeting the fate of many an aging urban Catholic church and is threatened with the wrecking ball, a move supported by the bishop but heroically (and quixotically) resisted by Dominic, who tries to drum up support through a lively blog on the Internet. Posting his thoughts and sermons online opens him up to considerable vilification, however, for he finds that there's a great deal of hostility out there, much of it directed toward priests. Another narrative thread involves James, a talented young pianist taught by Signora Rosa, a septuagenarian piano teacher who gives her protégé cryptic, ethereal instructions in his approach to music. She persuades James to start writing a "biography" of the Goldberg Variations, a piece he feels an almost mystic attraction to. The paths of James and Dominic cross when the pianist becomes choir director at Our Lady of Fatima, and the narrative is further complicated when Dominic becomes romantically involved with Signora Rosa's daughter Andrea, a divorcée with a 10-year-old daughter. Donatich manages to avoid clichés in what could have been another trendy defamation of the Catholic Church, for Father Dominic emerges as a fully fleshed character, both tormented and lost.