Saturday, September 5, 2015

A short but emotional masterpiece

The Sunken Cathedral

By John F. D. Taff

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Pub. Date: August 4, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Jacob Reilly is 12 years old and the youngest of five boys. His short life has been one of hand-me-downs and that of having no real standout talent or feature. He feels disconnected to his family, his school and community and has no real friends. His only solace is in the church. He feels accepted, and in some ways special, in his position as an altar boy at the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church. He is particularly fond of one priest, Father Matt, who seems to prefer Jacob as his altar boy and has developed an interest in him.

In The Sunken Cathedral, John F. D. Taff has taken a disturbing and all too common situation and turned it into a heart-wrenching coming-of-age tale. Perhaps it is more of a "disruption of age" story since it is about broken trust and the destruction of identity. The entire story is in the first person narrative of Jacob and that is a major reason it becomes riveting yet sometimes difficult to read as we share Jacob's own confusion and loss. Taff has a brilliant ability to get into the emotions of the main character and to dig deep into his psyche. For a fairly short novella of 90 pages, it is incredible how much emotional exploration the author fits into it. It is a dark piece of fiction yet not without a glimmer of light as we come to the end of the tunnel. Taff's style is alternately realistic and poetic. He touches on uncomfortable themes and scenes with just the right amount of tension, giving us Jacob's insight slowly and realistically. His focus on Jacob and his direct experiences and emotions gives the story the right amount of pathos without ever crossing into the sensational or histrionic.

The Sunken Cathedral may be hard for some to read despite the author's flowing and accessible style. However, it is the type of story that needs to be read. It can be useful for those who have experienced this kind of tragedy or for those to get some insight on the confusion and hurt that accompanies the victims. But it is also great storytelling. Highly recommended.

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