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The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor

The Edge of Sadness (1961)

by Edwin O'Connor

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Astonishingly well-written. Characters seem absolutely real. Painfully honest, but still funny. Some of the best dialog I've ever read. Very psychologically astute.
  RGilbraith | Dec 30, 2013 |
Found this in a pile of old books at an estate sale, and I'm glad I did. It was a very absorbing read, a long (maybe a bit too long) meditation on the nature of families, loneliness, loss and despair, and told from the viewpoint of an alcoholic who also happens to be a Catholic priest.

Edwin O'Connor's novel, THE EDGE OF SADNESS, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1962, the year I graduated from high school and entered the army, so I guess it's no wonder I missed it at the time. O'Connor's opus was published in 1961, which was, I believe, the last year that the Mass was still in Latin. After Vatican II everything went to English, and much of the majestic mystery of Catholic ritual was lost forever. The story here is set just before those big changes and the narrator protagonist, Father Hugh Kennedy, a priest for over thirty years, has only recently returned to parish work in a large New England city (probably modeled after Providence, where O'Connor grew up) after a four-year stay in Arizona at the Cenacle, a secluded rehabilitation center for wayward priests. Kennedy's problem was alcoholism, triggered by grief and loneliness following the death of his father. The story turns around his re-involvement with the Carmody family from the old neighborhood, particularly the sudden and unexplained interest of the Carmody patriarch, Old Charlie, a story-spinning and ruthless slumlord who has ruled his family with an iron fist. His children are all interesting characters and include John, a priest and childhood friend of Hugh; Helen, who escaped into a marriage of convenience; Dan, a good-for-nothing gambler; and Mary, the beaten-down daughter who stayed home to keep house for her widowed father.

O'Connor is nothing if not thorough in his minute analysis of all of these characters, particularly Hugh, who seems to examine his life and every thought and action in excruciating detail that seems like an examination of conscience that never ends. Because of this the story plods at times, but still manages to keep you turning the pages, wondering just what Old Charlie is up to in his sudden cultivation of Hugh's companionship, not to mention the countless lies he tells about his great friendship with Hugh's deceased father. The "secret" is kept until the final pages of the book and reveals itself along with another devastating and completely unexpected twist.

Many comparisons sprang to mind as I made my way through THE EDGE OF SADNESS. Here are a few: J.F. Powers's books, of course - all of them; Jon Hassler's NORTH OF HOPE; Ralph McInerney's THE PRIEST; and Canadian Linden McIntyre's Nova Scotia trilogy, especially THE BISHOP'S MAN. All of these are great fictional looks at the Catholic Church, the priesthood and all its particular problems in the past fifty-some years.

The title of the book should warn you, and sometimes the sadness mentioned actually goes OVER the edge, plunging into a dark despair. If you don't like dark, sad stories, then you'd probably better steer clear of this one. My view? This is a truly fine book that earned that Pulitzer. I recommended it highly. ( )
  TimBazzett | Nov 21, 2013 |
Won the Pulitzer. About a middle-aged priest in New England.
  Katrinkadink | Nov 9, 2013 |
This won the 1962 Puolitzer Prize for fiction. I believe I enjoyed reading the book ( )
  Schmerguls | May 24, 2013 |
While I do like to think that I have a decent sense of humor, I've never been one to laugh out loud much.

This book is probably the first book I've ever read that had me constantly cracking up. However, I doubt anyone else would have the same experience.

The book is basically about a priest who is very close to his father. When his dad dies, he ends up going off the deep end and getting wasted all the time. Eventually the Cardinal sends him to a rehab-for-Priests place in Arizona. After 4 or so years there, he finally gets a Parish back.

The Parish he gets though, is not the one he would have wanted. It's a Parish for non-English speakers, poor folks and those who are just looking for a place to eat. His church was once the most beautiful around, but now most of its rooms are boarded up and not used. If it weren't for the Cardinal's personal love for the church (he attended it as a child), there's no way that this Parish would continue to exist.

Throughout the course of the book, the Priest begins to get in touch with people from his past, who know about his drinking problem. The book is full of colorful and hilarious characters. I'd never really considered what a Priest thinks about on a day to day basis, but it was pretty funny reading his reactions to these goofy people and his insane Parishiners.

My favorite character though, is the Priest's young protege. After reading a few pages of his dialouge and inane ramblings, I realized that he's a dead ringer for Dwight from The Office.

In summation : If you're me and you want to laugh for like 10,000 hours, you should read this hilarious and ridiculous book.

P.S. I should really explain a thing or two more in regard to why other people wouldn't find this funny. It's mostly really serious and sad. However, the reason it's my jam is that all of the humor is extremely dry and subtle. Seriously, if anyone actually read this book with this review in mind, it would lead to massive confusion. Also, explosions! ( )
  agnesmack | Sep 4, 2011 |
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The Edge of Sadness is a novel by the American author Edwin O'Connor. It was published in 1961 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1962. The story is about a middle-aged Catholic priest in New England.
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"Father Hugh Kennedy, a recovering alcoholic, returns to Boston to repair his damaged priesthood. There he is drawn into the unruly world of the Carmodys, a sprawling, prosperous Irish family teeming with passion and riddled with secrets. The story of this entanglement is a beautifully rendered tale of grace and renewal, of friendship and longing, of loneliness and spiritual aridity giving way to hope."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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