Morte D'Urban (New York Review Books Classics)
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Winner of The 1963 National Book Award for Fiction.
The hero of J.F. Powers's comic masterpiece is Father Urban, a man of the cloth who is also a man of the world. Charming, with an expansive vision of the spiritual life and a high tolerance for moral ambiguity, Urban enjoys a national reputation as a speaker on the religious circuit and has big plans for the future. But then the provincial head of his dowdy religious order banishes him to a retreat house in the Minnesota hinterlands. Father Urban soon bounces back, carrying God's word with undaunted enthusiasm through the golf courses, fishing lodges, and backyard barbecues of his new turf. Yet even as he triumphs his tribulations mount, and in the end his greatest success proves a setback from which he cannot recover.
First published in 1962, Morte D'Urban has been praised by writers as various as Gore Vidal, William Gass, Mary Gordon, and Philip Roth. This beautifully observed, often hilarious tale of a most unlikely Knight of Faith is among the finest achievements of an author whose singular vision assures him a permanent place in American literature.
The station agent, writing at his desk, seemed unaware of him. An old dog lying behind the counter woke up and gave him a look that said, Can’t you see he’s working on his report? “I’d like to call a taxi, if I may,” said Father Urban, giving the town the benefit of a doubt, and then he waited. Presently the agent got up and came to the counter. He pushed the telephone at Father Urban and tossed him a thin directory. “Cost you a dime to call,” he said. The dog opened its eyes, as if it wanted
And so Father Urban went along with the others, and with hammer, scout ax, hacksaw, in a cloud of dust and grit he worked along with them. But he wasn’t the team man he’d been on the previous job. During his lunch hour, he took a nap from which he sometimes had to be summoned by Brother Harold (“Father wonders if you’re all right, Father”), and sometimes, during working hours, he went up to his room, and made no bones about it, for a snort (“I find it cuts the dust”). A good part of his working
a man—or, if there was, it wasn’t in a parish like St Monica’s. And was Monsignor Renton’s devotion to his friend, so good to see, really so pure and selfless as it appeared? One Saturday night, in the middle of December, Father Urban was locking up the church when Monsignor Renton appeared, carrying a light bulb and saying that nothing annoyed him so much as burned-out bulbs in public places. They dragged out a ladder and replaced a bulb in one of the gilded sconces that flowered out from the
course.” “What eight seasons?” “Why, the eight seasons of the church year, of course.” Father Urban hadn’t cared for that, not a-tall, but even without that, he wouldn’t have cared for Dickie. The boy, as his mother fondly referred to him, was forty-six, fat in the middle and soft all over, with a bottlenose (from his father, to judge by photographs in Mrs Thwaites’s room), and lots of hair (this from his mother) swept up in a gray mane that might have looked all right on the conductor of a
BY CARL P. ZIMMERMAN.” “One of the boys at the prison made that for me,” Mr Zimmerman said. “A former employee. I didn’t ask him to, but I wrote and thanked him.” “I should think you would,” said Father Urban, wondering if that was all Mr Zimmerman had done. “Minneapolis Tribune. St Paul Pioneer Press. CHICAGO Tribune,” said Father Urban, and looked up to see Mr Zimmerman smiling. “J. Edgar Hoover,” said Father Urban, coming upon one of his open letters. “How’d he get in here?” “I thought that