The Catholic Novel

Fact or fiction?

Is there such a thing as the Catholic novel? Tricky question. My qualifications for addressing it boil down to two: I’m a practicing novelist—although that’s not how I make my living (I’m a political and corporate speechwriter); and I’m a practicing Catholic, though the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith might require a retraction or qualification of certain opinions before it would license me, formally, to use that label.

When examined more closely, however, those two qualifications, thin to begin with, become even less substantial. I don’t spend much time thinking about being a novelist, Catholic or otherwise. I did, in the beginning, when I wanted to find out what it took to be one. I read two books on the subject. The first was by an Englishman whose name I’ve forgotten. It was titled, I think, On Becoming a Novelist. In the opening chapter, the author posited that it was unwise for aspiring novelists to be encumbered by a spouse, children, or a full-time job. Since I was happily encumbered with all three, I didn’t bother reading the rest of the book.

The second book was by John Gardner, a novelist (Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues) whose work I admire and respect. The essay was called On Moral Fiction (1978). Gardner left me so confused about the substance of moral fiction and how it was written that I thought maybe I should try my hand at "...

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About the Author

Peter Quinn, a frequent contributor, is the author Dry Bones and Banished Children of Eve (both from Overlook Press), among other books.