For the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading Les Miserables for my book club, but also the great Pulitzer Prize novel from 1961, The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor. The narrator of this lovely book is an Irish American priest, Father Hugh Kennedy, who tells us his own story mixed in with that of another Irish American family he has known his entire life, the Carmodys. I began reading the book on the day that Pope Benedict resigned, read it throughout the church’s 2013″let’s elect a pope” thing, and ended it on Saint Patrick’s Day (today), so it turned out to be a particuarly fun time to read the book.
Father Kennedy is a pre-Vatican II Catholic priest, but O’Connor’s brilliant storytelling temporarily made me forget my disdain for the Catholic patriarchy. Father Kennedy is like me! Here’s my favorite passage from the book below. Does it speak to you, too?
So, then, this is the way a happy day can end, dissolving in an instant into a wash of melancholy, which may be sentimental, false, absurd, and which in fact I know to be just that from the very moment it begins, but by which, all the same, I always seem to be engulfed. I say “always,” but of course that’s not quite true, because this queer, causeless sadness is not a regular thing with me—it comes very seldom, really, but when it does it comes with leaping unexpectedness, from nowhere with the speed of light: the blizzard from the blue sky on a day in early May. I don’t know why it comes this way; I don’t know why it comes at all. Because now, surely, I have no reason for sadness, but still, it comes, every once in a while, and I’m taken by surprise each time: I’m like a man who in one moment is boasting that he’s never been in better health, and in the next is lying chilled and shaking in his bed—it’s that sudden. I suppose there’s an answer to this: it may be that the battle never really ends, and that we are never more vulnerable than at the precise moment when we feel ourselves least so; the defenses relax, and the enemy strikes. . . .
Unfortunately O’Connor died suddenly in 1968 at the age of 50, so we don’t have volumes and volumes from a long literary life. Nevertheless, I can’t see why we aren’t still talking about, reading, teaching, writing about, The Edge of Sadness. It’s really a masterpiece, readable yet profound (and sometimes funny, too). I highly recommend it to any serious reader.