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Morte D'Urban (New York Review Books…
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Morte D'Urban (New York Review Books Classics) (original 1962; edition 2000)

by J.F. Powers, Elizabeth Hardwick (Introduction)

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443735,659 (4.08)22
Member:TimBazzett
Title:Morte D'Urban (New York Review Books Classics)
Authors:J.F. Powers
Other authors:Elizabeth Hardwick (Introduction)
Info:NYRB Classics (2000), Paperback, 360 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:fiction, catholic church, religion, priests, j f powers

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Morte d'Urban by J. F. Powers (1962)

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
It took me a while to get into Powers' short stories, but after I finished the first volume of them I couldn't put them down. So I was primed for this, and it didn't disappoint. In fact, the larger canvas seems to suit him more in some ways. Granted, it suffers a little bit from the same kind of disjointed narrative track that Cheever Wapshot Chronicle suffers from, but to nowhere near the same degree. But that's this novel's only flaw (unless you count 'being about a priest' as a flaw, which I don't, but some might): it's beautifully written, quietly hilarious in an Evelyn Waugh kind of way, and extraordinarily subtle in its depiction of the unbridgeable gap between the best and worst aspects of modern human beings. Powers has an incredible ability to vary the distance between the narrative voice and main character (sometimes they're practically identical, sometimes much fun is had at Urban's expense), and to elicit both ironic scorn & joyful admiration for all of the characters, all in perfectly clear prose. My only complaint (occasional disjointed narrative aside) is that he only wrote two novels. ( )
2 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I greatly appreciated this book. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jun 16, 2013 |
This is a fabulous piece of writing on an era that is long gone,good or bad. Certainly, there is a more coherent sense of place and community here than today. Powers placed the life of a somewhat vain and ambitious man in the context of the Catholic hierarchy, with the same striving for power and success that laymen face.If you like Walker Percy or Peter Taylor, I think you will like this. ( )
  DaleCropper | Apr 13, 2011 |
Cradle Catholics will enjoy ( )
  brone | Jan 26, 2011 |
Father Urban is a priest in the fictitious Order of St. Clement. Based in 1950s Chicago, Fr Urban travels extensively, preaching at missions on the religious circuit throughout the mid-western United States. He lives somewhat of a high life for a priest, traveling by first class rail and dining in fine restaurants. He considers himself above the petty squabbles and politics of the Order, but one day he is transferred to a remote outpost in Duesterhaus, Minnesota (in fact, when I located Duesterhaus on Yahoo Maps, it literally placed me in the middle of nowhere).

Fr Urban arrives by train and, finding no taxi available, walks over a mile from the station to St Clement's Hill. Ostensibly a retreat center, the rector (Father Wilfrid) and a lay assistant (Brother Harold) spend most of their time refurbishing the facilities, always at the lowest possible cost. Their only transportation is a run-down pickup truck. Signs are hand-painted by Brother Harold. Winters are bitter cold; most of the rooms are left unheated. The Hill is largely ignored by the Order -- out of sight, out of mind.

During the week the men work on the property, and on weekends they have pastoral duties in churches nearby. Fr Urban begins making contacts in the community, building relationships that can benefit St. Clement's Hill and the Order. Fr Urban settles in reluctantly, but over time the place begins to grow on him. When he is called to fill in for a pastor who is taking extended leave, he throws himself into the work: church attendance goes up, he mentors a curate, and cultivates support for a building campaign. Fr Urban's Midas touch served him well on the circuit, and begins to pay dividends for The Hill as well.

Throughout his time at St. Clement's, Fr Urban remains in contact with Billy Cosgrove, a wealthy benefactor in Chicago. Billy gives freely to The Hill, beginning with a television set at Christmas. Later his gifts become more substantial, and while Urban appreciates Billy's generosity, he also begins to see another side of his friend's character. Billy makes his generosity very public, expecting recognition and instant service. Urban is just as flamboyant as Billy in his own way, but performs innumerable acts of kindness towards others, almost always behind the scenes.

This book is filled with dry wit, as J.F. Powers pokes fun at the Catholic Church, the priesthood, and small-town life. The emotional side of the story -- told through Urban's relationships with fellow clergy, Billy, and various townspeople -- sneaks up on you. When I began this novel, Father Urban struck me as something of a blowhard, but by the end of the novel he was a "real" person worthy of admiration. ( )
4 vote lauralkeet | Feb 21, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Somewhere between a comedy-of-manners and a decidedly low-key if ambiguous tragedy
 
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Epigraph
The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another…
—J. M. Barrie
Dedication
For My Mother and Father
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First I have to tell you something about our Father Provincial.
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Book description
Father Urban Roche is no ordinary priest. He is a formidable golfer, fisherman (of souls), raconteur and star of the preaching circuit; portly Chicago businessmen come to him for absolution, and gorgeous redheads dash after him in zippy sports cars. Hardly surprising, then, that Father Urban harbours less-than-meek ambitions of inheriting that highest of posts, Father Provincial of his order.

Suddenly, however, he is banished to the retreat-house in the wastes of Minnesota and is forced to confront the little realities of life on earth. One fish, he discovers goes a very long way at St Clement' Hill and the loaves are always stale. But, miraculously, through a series of events at once uproarious and moving, this man for all seasons discovers the true nature of faith. A novel about a priest - a special priest - Morte D'Urban is a parable of the straitened role of belief in a secular age. It is also one of the comic masterpieces of our time.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0940322234, Paperback)

A comic masterpiece by a criminally neglected writer, J.F. Powers's Morte D'Urban has had a checkered commercial history from the very start. The original publisher failed to reprint the novel after it won the 1963 National Book Award, and although it's had various paperback reincarnations since then, these too have tended to disappear from the shelves. Perhaps any novel about Catholic priests in the Protestant Midwest would be in for some tough sledding. Still, it's hard to think of a funnier piece of writing, or one more accurately attuned to the deadpan rhythms of American speech. Doubters need only consult Father Urban's sermons, which mix pure banality and theological hairsplitting in such exact proportions as to suggest Babbitt in a clerical collar. Yet Powers also manages a kind of last-minute legerdemain, transforming his satiric romp into a deadly serious, and deeply moving, exploration of faith.

The satire, of course, is itself worth the price of admission. Poor Father Urban, mired in a 10th-rate religious order!

It seemed to him that the Order of St. Clement labored under the curse of mediocrity, and had done so almost from the beginning. In Europe, the Clementines hadn't (it was always said) recovered from the French Revolution. It was certain that they hadn't ever really got going in the New World. Their history revealed little to brag about--one saint (the Holy Founder) and a few bishops of missionary sees, no theologians worthy of the name, no original thinkers, not even a scientist. The Clementines were unique in that they were noted for nothing at all.
The clash between this ecclesiastical overachiever and his underachieving brethren never loses its comedic charge. It also occasions plenty of politicking and ex cathedra combat, involving not only the Clementines but various diocesan heavyweights. Who will win this holy war? When Father Urban lures unbelievers to the order's Minnesota property with a world-class golf course--complete with a "shrine of Our Lady below No. 5 green"--his triumph seems assured. Yet his ability to balance between the secular and the sacred is what ultimately collapses, along with his "secret ascendancy over the life around him." In an age when fiction seems to have lost some of its power to instruct and amuse (and not necessarily in that order), Morte D'Urban is brilliant enough to make believers of us all. --James Marcus

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:30 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Father Urban is 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." -- Back cover.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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NYRB Classics

2 editions of this book were published by NYRB Classics.

Editions: 0940322234, 159017660X

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