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Morte D'Urban, J F Powers, Doubleday, 1962, 336 pp
I had not heard of this author before. I read the novel because it won the National Book Award in 1963. This award was created in 1950 and I have read all the winning books from then up through 1963. Many were great; some challenged my idea of what I consider a great novel. Morte D'Urban, the third novel concerning priests from my 1963 list, was a stand out.
Father Urban is quite a character. I am a bit hazy on how he became a priest. It was well explained in the novel but I just don't remember it that clearly. In any case, it was a rash decision that left him conflicted for the rest of his life, but he did his best to perform the role despite the lowly status of the religious order to which he belonged.
His intelligence, his grasp of worldly matters and his genuine love of people are what got him through. One of his duties is fund raising which entails plenty of humorous moments. The author, who wrote only Catholic fiction, seems to have been unusually clear eyed regarding the challenges of living a dedicated religious life in our materialist culture.
Now that I think about it, this conflict between the world and the priest is almost always a theme in any religious fiction I have read so apparently it is a known issue.
Morte D'Urban has a sorrowful ending and I could see it coming as I read. A sign of good fiction for me is that I become deeply invested in the protagonist's plight. That happened for me in this smartly perceptive novel about the life of a priest in mid 20th century America.
It was the best of the three novels about priests in 1963, The Shoes of the Fisherman and Grandmother and the Priests being the other two.
I have now finished the Award Winners section of my 1963 list and am moving into the part of that list curated by me.
Here are the prize winners I read:
1. PULITZER: The Reivers, Faulkner
2. NEWBERY: A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
3. CALDECOTT: The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
4. NBA: Morte D’Urban, J F Powers
5. HUGO: The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick-
6. EDGAR: Death and the Joyful Woman, Ellis Peters
(Morte D'Urban is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)