Most reviews of J.F. Powers’ 1962 comic masterpiece Morte d’Urban (especially most reviews in elite venues) see the central story as that of a wheeler-dealer priest who dies to earthly life to achieve a greater sanctity. And that assessment is pretty hard to argue with—since the hero of the novel is a priest, and the writer himself was Catholic, the novel has to be about the importance of the spiritual life over worldly success, right?
Wrong. As always, it’s convenient for the elite to assure the poor and frustrated that they will find their reward in heaven, so they don’t have to be given a cut here on earth. But the problem with this take on the story of Father Urban is that this is not how it will feel to any non-elite reading it. The way it feels to me as I read most of it is hilarious and exhilarating; the way it felt as I finished it was heartbreaking. What makes it sad is that it’s the story of a great man who’s destroyed by the yahoos. Continue reading JF Powers’ Morte d’Urban: On the Priesthood of American Literary Writers