The Stories Of A Roman Catholic Writer: On “Death in Naples” and “The Deacon”

Mary Gordon is a notable American author, and a Catholic.  From The Stories of Mary Gordon (2013), there is “Death in Naples,” a 19-page piece wherein an elderly widow, Lorna, visits Italy with her son and daughter-in-law.

The daughter-in-law is a difficult complainer who suddenly has to leave the Continental country without appreciating any of its splendors.  The son goes with her, and Lorna is left alone.  There is something catalyzed by this:  Lorna sees the inadequacy and absurdity of life.  Among the many details about her that Gordon provides is that “She was not a religious woman,” and to be sure Lorna does not understand how spirituality, or a spiritual life, is to be had.  A certain uplift, however, occurs at the story’s conclusion.

A luminous story it is, and “The Deacon” is also very worthy.  Here, a nun called Joan finds it impossible to Christianly love Gerard, an unsuitable deacon.  He tried to become a priest but “couldn’t cut it at the sem,” although at St. Timothy’s School, where Joan is the principal, he fails to cut it as a teacher as well.  The nun’s weakness regarding love is no worse than the weaknesses of other Christians at the school, and inevitably she must attempt to work her way around it.  She settles for what she is capable of, spiritually.  It’s the kind of subject Mary Gordon faces head-on.

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