First Things | 2/26/2010 | Daniel Ratelle
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What is “Catholic fiction”? Must it instruct us in dogma? Or present a sacramental worldview? Must it be written for professing Catholics by a professing Catholic? Or by a saint? Joshua Hren’s new collection of short stories, This Our Exile, treads a via media among these criteria. There are no priest-heroes, but each of the twelve stories contains some explicit reference to the Church. Hren has a deep moral imagination, but these stories are not mere morality tales. Characters are not props for a sermon, but real, often desperate people who act as real people do. As Dana Gioia has written in these pages, “Catholic literature is rarely pious. In ways that sometimes trouble or puzzle both Protestant and secular readers, Catholic writing tends to be comic, rowdy, rude, and even violent.” In other words, Catholic literature mirrors life, and This Our Exile gives us literature and life in equal measure.

“Control,” which is told from the perspective of a man both before and after his girlfriend has an abortion, illustrates Hren’s defining concerns. The main characters live in a seedy neighborhood where the only person who maintains his lawn is Kellogg Mink, later revealed to be a serial killer. This quiet grotesquerie is typical: Hren’s characters are killers’ neighbors, not killers themselves. They are too mediocre for real malefaction. Doubly exiled by sin and postmodernity, they cannot act until grace breaks in. This grace, however, is not Calvin’s irresistible grace. It does not force the characters’ hands—it only forces crises. The characters, and by extension we, are free to choose. The stories in This Our Exile do not resolve in a traditional sense, but stop at the moment of crisis, leaving salvation open as a possibility.

Hren - Characters - Epiphanies - Exile

Hren’s characters are almost always given epiphanies, allowing them to peer beyond their exile. In...
(Excerpt) Read more at: First Things
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