Reynolds Price, one of America's most distinguished and honored writers, has produced such masterpieces as Noble Norfleet, Roxanna Slade, and Kate Vaiden, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Now in The Good Priest's Son, his fourteenth novel and thirty-sixth book, Price gives us another penetrating study -- full-length portraits of five arresting characters.
On September 11, 2001, Mabry Kincaid -- a fiftyish art conservator -- is flying home after a much-needed rest in Rome and Paris. Halfway across the Atlantic, his plane is diverted from New York to Nova Scotia. Two days later, when the United States has recovered sufficiently from the attack on the World Trade Center, Mabry discovers that his downtown New York loft is uninhabitable. He flies south to North Carolina instead to visit his aged father. A widowed Episcopal priest, Tasker Kincaid has been injured in a recent fall and is cared for by live-in Audrey Thornton, an African-American divinity student at Duke University, and her grown son, Marcus, an ambitious painter. During a week in North Carolina -- with help from his cantankerous father, from Audrey and Marcus and from Gwyn Williams, an old flame -- Mabry is compelled to explore his tormented relationship with his father and with a world that still harbors much that he's loved but has long since abandoned.
On his return to New York -- and in a swift and unexpected return to the south -- Mabry must deal with the near-ruin of his loft, with haunting memories of his infidelities to his recently deceased wife, with the end of his childhood family, the uncertainty of his professional career, the ambivalence of his adult daughter, and with a daunting likelihood that is terrifyingly at work inside his body.
Reynolds Price writes at peak form in this lean and masterful, comic yet profoundly moving novel -- one that unfolds the stages of one man's hope for ransom in old familiar worlds that are now forever changed.
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November 01, 0006
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Excerpt from The Good Priest's Son by Reynolds Price
The whole three weeks in Italy had felt like the rescue Mabry hoped for -- not a single moment of cloudy vision and almost none of the maddening jangle of threatened nerves in his hands and legs. Even the two quick days in France, despite the routine Parisian rudeness, had failed to crank his symptoms. So he'd stuffed his ears with the airline's free plugs and sunk into a nap in what he suspected was half-foolish hope. Maybe my body isn't ruined after all. Maybe Rome has cured me. And the nap was so deep that the pilot's first few news reports didn't reach him at all. What finally woke him was the huge plane itself -- a steep tilt northward, a wide swing, then a man's calm voice as the wings leveled off.
It said "Ladies and gentlemen," not the usual jaunty Folks. Then it took a long pause. "The latest news is even more impressive. At the World Trade Center, the second tower has also collapsed. As many as six thousand people may be lost. The plane that crashed into the Pentagon has taken maybe three hundred lives, and a fourth plane has crashed in a Pennsylvania field with all hands aboard. All U.S. airports are now closed to traffic, and we have our orders to divert. We're headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. No further plans are available at present. I'll keep you posted."
Mabry had removed his earplugs by then; but he'd still never heard such silence in an airplane as what swept through in the wake of that voice. Before he could look around -- the plane was half empty -- the pilot said four more words that were worse than all the rest. "I hope I can." When had any of them heard such desolation?
Behind, a single voice sobbed distinctly. It seemed to be a man.
But since no other passenger was near in the first-class seats, Mabry rang for help; and a rattled steward told him the little they knew. Both of the World Trade Towers had been hit by full-sized jets, and both had now fallen. The collisions had come just after work started. Some reports said a plane had struck the Pentagon; a fourth plane had crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Mabry sipped at the double gin the steward brought, unasked. Then he shut his eyes to think, if thinking was possible. He knew just enough American history to calculate that, if six thousand human beings were dead, then this was the most disastrous day since the bloodiest day of the Civil War -- the battle at Antietam when, almost surely, nearly four thousand died. And this day had barely started. Whoever had done this and what else was planned?
Yet when he opened his eyes again, he looked to the jittery steward alone in the all-gray galley and saw him as clear as a stark photograph -- or grim as a Goya torture victim. Mabry gave him a brief consolatory wave, a windshield-wiper side-to-side gesture (he was in first class, courtesy of years of frequent-flier credits).
His wave brought the steward back; he leaned to Mabry's ear and whispered. "My partner works fifty yards away, across the plaza. He's an architect. Say a hard prayer for him. Me as well -- he's all I've got on the planet Earth."
Somehow Mabry felt he knew the truthful thing to say. "Your friend's OK. I'm all but sure." When he looked, the steward's name tag said Larry Leakins; so Mabry took the further risk of saying "He's truly safe, Larry. I live down there, just three blocks south."
For the moment at least, Larry seemed to believe him. He squeezed Mabry's shoulder and went back to work.