The National Catholic Review

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  • In the academic world, it sometimes seems untoward for religion scholars to be enthusiastic about religion. It’s fine for specialists in the social sciences or arts to revel in some particular school of thought. But, it seems to me, a certain distance is expected from the religious studies expert—to view the subject of the transcendent as an entirely human construct.

    In his new book History and Presence , the historian Robert A. Orsi argues for an approach to...

  • August 1-8, 2016

    David Means, the author of four critically acclaimed collections of short stories, has written his first novel, and it is a tour de force of imagination. Freudian psychology, de-centered Vietnam vets and nonsensical bureaucratic language are rich ores for a novelist to mine. In particular, the languages of bureaucrats and stoners, entwined with one another, set up a hilarity that is almost joyful until we realize how soaked in menace the story is. We may...

  • August 1-8, 2016

    Another character-driven novel by Jonathan Franzen, Purity proposes a system in which morality is a performance and a frustration of desire. His newest book was highly anticipated after the success of The Corrections (2001), which won the National Book Award, and the highly praised Freedom (2010). Since Corrections Franzen has worn all the laurels as the darling of American letters. The hype is well deserved, though, as he continues the tradition of the large...

  • August 1-8, 2016

    Thanks to Isadore Nikunge, I can attest to the power of international perspective when it comes to troubling moral issues.

    In the early 1960s, Isadore was a foreign exchange student at Fordham University. He had come from Kenya (the actual Kenyan nation, not the State of Hawaii). Our family, living two blocks west of Fordham, befriended him.

    At the time, folks like Malcolm X were bluntly...

  • July 18-25, 2016

    W hen my brother Dave and I were very young our father, a journalist who, probably because he couldn’t afford college, had gone right into newspaper work when he returned from World War I, would grow agitated when he saw us reading comic books. I remember him saying he had read all of Dickens and James Fenimore Cooper when he was young. He may have exaggerated on “all” of Dickens, but his library attested that he read voluminously. I keep a dozen of his own...

  • July 4-11, 2016

    I sometimes think that the most meaningful difference between Catholic novelists today and half a century ago (when Greene, Percy and O’Connor ruled the literary roost) is, well, very little. Those writers were not interested in being labeled with their religious tradition (except for Flannery O’Connor, who even called herself a “thoroughly Christianized novelist” in a late essay); neither are Alice McDermott and Christopher Beha today....

  • July 4-11, 2016

    Ever since President Bill Clinton implemented his plan to “end welfare as we know it” in the 1990s, low-income households have found it increasingly difficult to pay their rent. Welfare payments have barely budged in the last 25 years, while housing costs have soared. As successive administrations have adopted “tough on crime” laws and skimped on cash payments to the poor, incarceration has come to define the lives of black men, and eviction has shaped the...

  • July 4-11, 2016

    A few years back, I was returning to Jerusalem from Ramallah by way of the Qalandia checkpoint. “Checkpoint” is a euphemism. This isn’t merely a couple of Israeli soldiers checking your ID Instead, you pass through a series of turnstiles, concrete barriers, barbed-wire tunnels that act as elongated cages, two-way mirrors and of course X-ray machines. You are surveilled, re-surveilled and surveilled again. No words are used. You are waved on not by hand, but...

  • Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” among many things, is a tale of paralyzing inaction in the face of violence. Confronted with the murder of his father, Hamlet is haunted by his dead father’s ghost and later by his own psyche, both of which beg him to do something . Yes, Hamlet must decide how he will enact revenge for his father, but the climax of the tragedy revolves around Hamlet’s existential choice of whether or not he will act at all.

    Confronted with the ghosts of 20 children who were...

  • June 20-27, 2016

    Incorporating the title of Wallace Stevens’s first collection of poetry ( Harmonium , 1923), this is Paul Mariani’s sixth literary biography, preceded by his lives of Hopkins, Berryman, Lowell, Williams and Hart Crane. Mariani adds his seasoned wisdom and remarkable narrative skills in capturing a poet’s ethos to earlier and current Stevens biographies by Joan Richardson, Alison Johnson and Al Filreis.

    Mariani’s impeccable...