Monday, November 1, 2010

The Edge of Sadness

While reading one of my favorite blogs, Betty Duffy, I came upon a post that caught my attention with the title "I did my work, time went by..." It was a quote from the book "The Edge of Sadness" by Edwin O'Connor published in 1961.

With Betty's statement that this was the best novel she had read in a long time, I headed right out to the library to pick up a copy and found that I completely agreed with Betty; "The Edge of Sadness" was wonderful! What is most interesting to me when I read other people's opinions of books is that the same story can strike people in different ways, drawing us to find meaning and enrichment to whatever may be on our hearts at the time of reading the book. Betty's post on the book rightly pointed out that working through the ordinary and mundane activities of life can be a way to find the heart of God. But for me, it was detachment, that ever elusive ideal to which I am always striving, that stood out for me as a highlight of the story.

"The Edge of Sadness" is the story of Fr. Kennedy, who began his priesthood as a popular and well-loved priest, but with the death of his father, found himself floundering in his vocation. It was through a life-long friend and fellow priest that he began to realize his true purpose in the priesthood. At the end of the story, the Bishop offers Fr. Kennedy the parish he had always wanted but he turns it down in favor of staying at the dreary, run-down inner city parish where he is currently assigned.

He says "At this moment, here in the rectory hallway, I stood aching with excitement, for suddenly it seemed to me that something might be ahead which grew out of the past, yes, but was totally different, with its own labors and rewards, that it might be deeper and fuller and more meaningful than anything in the past, and that as a priest at Old St. Paul's, working day by day in this parish I had really been shamed into choosing by the scornful words of a dying friend, I might, through the parish and its people, find my way not again to the simple engagement of the heart and affections, but to the Richness, the Mercy, the immeasurable Love of God..."

I was thinking that this might be the best example of detachment that I have ever read! Here was this priest giving up something that he had wanted for years, the parish of his dreams, and he found that without it, he was closer to God than ever before. And isn't that the purpose of all of our lives here on earth, to draw closer to God through whatever means He happens to present to us at any given moment? It seems to me that God is always nudging me and sometimes even forcefully pushing me, towards letting go of my disordered dreams, hopes, desires and friendships. I need constant reminders that the things I want can often become false idols that get in the way of my relationship with God instead of leading me to Him. The next time I cry out to the heavens in frustration over lost dreams I will remember this quote and the the fictional Fr. Kennedy as an example of the virtues to be found when we let go and let God.

Another highlight for me in reading this book was the section where the son of one of his lifelong friends had asked Fr. Kennedy for permission to come to his parish and promote himself and his political candidacy and Fr. Kennedy denied that request summing it up with this great quote: "...the Mass isn't quite the same as the regular monthly meeting of the Parent-Teacher's Association, is it? It's a prayer, after all; you can't use it for anything else. And even to be there-to be seen, as a candidate-would be using it. No, I'm afraid I'm against it."

In light of the impending election and my views about using a Catholic newspaper to promote political candidates, I found this passage to be very enlightening!

If you have not read "The Edge of Sadness", I highly recommend it. It was one of those rare books that, despite it's length, was a quick read because it was so easy to get caught up in the lives of the characters and it was impossible to put it down until I was finished, and even then, I continued to re-read passages that touched my heart.


  1. Anne, I am so glad that you checked out the Edge of Sadness. Truly a wonderful read. I wanted to write a review of it, but I was afraid I would end up just quoting passage after powerful passage.

  2. One of my favorite books! Thanks for sharing this one.

  3. I'm ordering this one TODAY.

  4. Ooooo, this sounds like a great book! I am going to see if I can reserve through our online library. Love that passage...sounds like further proof that we gain nothing until we die to ourself. I am re-reading True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort and I just read last night "In order to rid ourselves of self, we must die to ourselves daily." Is this so true or what? Thanks for the review!

  5. Order it from Eighth Day Books, a great company. That's where I ordered the copy that Betty read which was originally a gift to my dad, which my mom read and now my sister. I had read an old library version years ago. Glad to see a revival of interest.

  6. Excellent! And isn't it interesting that Fr. Hugh moves, in the course of the novel, from a disordered detachment, wherein he withholds himself from the people of his parish, to *real* and holy detachment.

    This really is the most beautiful, true novel I've read in a long, long time.

  7. I'll def have to check this book out sometime. It sounds like something I'd enjoy/need.

    You wrote:
    "It seems to me that God is always nudging me and sometimes even forcefully pushing me, towards letting go of my disordered dreams, hopes, desires and friendships."

    I see this in my own life as well, and it is very painful! But after (most) of the pain passes on to something eles, I see how it's led me to God and away from the world. I too am working on detaching.

  8. I've been looking for a good book to read...maybe this'll be it!

  9. Thanks for the book recommendation, Anne. I find it difficult to find good books today and am always looking for new reads!

  10. I agree this one was a winner. Thanks for your insights also, Anne. I agree with those even more.
    It's funny, even though I read two to three novels a week, it's hard to find any with any positive message, much less Catholic one. I just read two by Hugh Holton which, surprisingly, ended with the main characters kneeling in prayer, one ended with the saying of an act of contrition for having (of necessity) killed the bad guy. It made me cry (but I'm a softie).

  11. "I did my work, time went by"

    What a sad, sad thought. But a powerful one to meditate on - and to remind us to keep meaning in our lives!

    Thanks for sharing - I will check out this book.

    God Bless

  12. I picked up the Edge in a Red Cross library when I first arrived in Viet Nam 1968. Whenever I had a spare moment I read, I was captivated by O'connors yarn spinning and the correlation of my own moral dilema and Father Kennedy's. I have read the book two more times. it forever a part of me. the second time I picked it up, I opened to the page which is my favorite, Father Kennedy asks the old timer priest what it is that makes the most desponden want to go on. The answer is soul moving. Find it.