Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Catholic Bashing and The Husband's Secret

Isn't it frustrating to be reading a book and to happen upon a slipped in remark that negatively portrays Catholics or Catholicism? It can be offhand comments from characters, or descriptions of characters, maybe a character's reaction to something, but it can be frustrating when it's without merit. I understand if a character's anti-Catholicism is built into a awful character's personality, or maybe a character is being described as a lapsed Catholic, but what can be really infuriating is the author slipping in their own bigotry or small axe to grind against the Church into the overall narration of a story.

I'm not pretending that this shocks me. In our society the most common form of polite slighting and snubbing is towards the Catholic Church and Catholics. It's just plain socially acceptable. I usually don't let it ruin a good book or story. One comment here or there by a character, I'll let it slide. I tend to think of myself as not quite that uptight.

But I recently read The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, and I couldn't ignore the repeated slurs against Catholicism or the many negative connotations. I read this book because I enjoyed her past novel What Alice Forgot quite a lot for a book that I would classify in the "chick lit" genre, it had an original storyline, an interesting portrayal of marriage, and left you pondering the truths of marriage, personal behaviour and happiness. This follow-up had plot lines similar to the preceding novel in that it explored three women and their marriages and families in a way that loosely brought all three together. Secrets and past sins become exposed and the consequences have to be dealt with. But everything I enjoyed about What Alice Forgot went horribly wrong in The Husband's Secret. The storyline seemed tired, the characters shallow, the ideas of marriage all wrong, but what really got me was the digs and jabs at Catholicism chapter after chapter.

All the characters were described as Catholic. But not Catholics who went to Church. Or actually had faith. That isn't even my description, that's how the characters were described. The trappings of Catholicism, like Mass attendance, sexual morality, and conscience, (I mean, ick, Catholic guilt, ick!) were all mentioned as if they were archaic structures of a medieval society they looked down upon at every opportunity. That is, of course, other than sending all their children to a Catholic school, which had clearly nothing Catholic about it. Just your basic lapsed Catholic stuff, really.

But as I read I couldn't help but feel as if the author was lazy. Each main character felt the same way towards Catholicism, had to be described that way, or the impossibility of prayer or even belief in God being strewn across interior dialogue with abandon. I can understand if one character had such prejudices against the Church, but to have every character described the same way chapter after chapter reeked of a personal attitude belonging to the author.

I finished the book but because it turned out to be mediocre and it couldn't save itself from it's shabby treatment of my faith. It left me thinking of how Catholic culture as viewed by mainstream society is actually lapsed-Catholic culture; full of personal affronts, misunderstanding of Church teachings, and no actual knowledge or experience of real faith. The sad fact of the matter is that maybe the majority of readers will relate to the biased, and misrepresented ideas surrounding Catholicism just like the characters of this book. Lapsed Catholics, belonging to the Church in name only, seem to outnumber those of us who are faithful and living the faith.

I know this is anything but new. But it's disappointing when a writer becomes displays such intellectual laziness in the depiction of a faith, instead of developing more aware characters. I guess when you think about it, the more disappointing fact is that there is a lot of people who have never investigated or been exposed to the real beauty of faith and so settle with making fun of what they do not understand.

(What We're Reading Wednesday will have happier reviews!)

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  1. I can identify with what you have written. For me, similar biases and 'isms' have been heartbreaking. I have surprisingly found that it gets me to thinking about what I find to be true, in light of what I disagree with, and this inspires me to write and share my ideas, as you've done here! Well done!

  2. I read What Alice Forgot and I really enjoyed it too. Very clever plot and insight into marriage. The Husband's Secret is on hold at the library waiting for me to pick it up. I guess I'll skip it.

    I just finished Wallace Stegner's Crossing To Safety, which I liked a lot. I've been thinking about if for days since I've finished it because of the themes of marriage and friendship.

  3. Boo. I'm with you 100%. I'll avoid that one. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. "Lapsed-Catholic culture." Brilliant! I would 100% rather read about non-Catholics, non-Christians, and athiests, than read about characters with any religion done wrong. I heard good things about What Alice Forgot. Investing time reading a book I regret infuriates me.

  5. I understand your point here, and also found the descriptions of women and what makes women beautiful truly offensive. As a bigger woman myself I resent the idea that shedding several stone would instantly reveal you as beautiful, as if you weren't before, and that suddenly you would change your personality and steal your cousin's husband. Offensive to many different groups it seems,.

    1. Right. It didn't really help people come to good conclusions about women and how they relate to each other women or men did it?

  6. I clicked on this link after reading your 12 in 24 and I love this post. I read one similar book and couldn't finish it because I had to write an apologetics piece for Catholic a Stand on the swipe against Catholicism. I agree with what you wrote and wish there were more characters who did love and live out their a catholic faith. Off to read more of your reflections


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