Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Passion Denied: My Review

It is an interesting feeling, sitting down to write a less than positive review of a book about which many people will gush positively. However, that's what I'm about to to. A Passion Denied is the third book in Julie Lessman's Daughters of Boston series. They are about a devout Catholic Boston Irish family, and this one takes place in the 1920s, during Prohibition. You can read my review of A Passion Most Pure and A Passion Redeemed by clicking on their titles.

Maybe I'm wrong about the number of people who will love this book. In some ways it has something to annoy a lot of Christian fiction readers. First of all, sex is very prominent in the book. No, we don't get vivid descriptions of who did what to whom, beyond a few neck nibbles, and dropping nightgowns, but sex seems to be the topic of half the conversations in the book. One husband is afraid to do it because his wife is pregnant and his mother lost a baby after having sex. Another husband wants to do it all the time, not only for the usual reason but also because he wants a baby, and they aren't conceiving easily. Another husband refuses to do it because he is deeply hurt by his wife. The unmarried daughter who is the focus of the story is learning about her sexuality and about limits. The male lead is afraid of sex because of something in his past.

The book is also likely to annoy those who read Christian fiction in spite of the religious message rather than because of it. There is a lot of religion in this book; lots of scripture quoting, lots of discussing religion and God's will for us, particularly as it relates to marriage and sex. It seems that if the characters weren't talking about sex, they were talking about God.

What is the story? The third daughter in the family, Elizabeth, has been in love with John Brady, the man who has studied the Bible with members of her family, since she was 13. Now she is 18 and wants him to recognize her as a woman, and marry her. He says he loves her like a sister, and that she can never be more to him than that. Will she convince him he is wrong, or will she end up with one of the other men in the story? I'll let you read and discover the answer.

As noted earlier, the family in this series is Catholic. The author, Julie Lessman, was raised Catholic but in now an evangelical Protestant. I found her representation of Catholicism in these books to be flawed, but not necessarily disrespectful. As I noted in my other reviews, though described as Catholic, the family's spirituality was more like today's evangelical Protestants than like that of Catholics from the 1920's. There were also errors relating to Catholicism. Some examples:
  • At the end of the previous book, it appeared that one sister and her fiance' were about to elope at City Hall. That was (and is) a serious sin and would have been seen as the same as living together without being married. In this book it appears they did indeed elope.
  • At one point in this book a priest is summoned to help someone dealing with sin in a destructive manner. It was mentioned that Fr. had time to come over before saying mass that day. When Fr. enters the house, he is offered, and accepts, coffee. At that time, in order to go to communion, you had to fast from midnite. As a priest, Fr. had to receive communion at mass; so he couldn't eat until he was done saying masses for the day.
  • Lizzie wanted to talk to someone after mass, only the book referred to it as the service, not mass.
  • The Catholic characters quote scripture extensively throughout the book, yet it isn't the Catholic Douay-Rheims they quote, but the Protestant King James (which they were discouraged if not forbidden from reading).
  • The Wedding March is mentioned as being played at a wedding; it wasn't allowed.
  • Lizzie prays in the church and remembers her childhood habit of "seeing" Jesus on the bench in the balcony; she senses Him there on the bench at her wedding, but no mention is made of her experiencing His presence in the tabernacle.
  • One of the characters has a serious sin in his past which is having a serious effect on his current life; despite his outwardly devout behavior. He is having a hard time accepting God's forgiveness and moving on with his life. When confronted with this sin, he commits another. At that point a friend fetches the priest who is the sinner's spiritual director/counsellor and the sinner goes to confession, though all we are privy to is "Bless me Father, for I have sinned..." Later, the priest tells other people some things he might have learned in that confession--or might have learned while counselling the man. It at least made me wonder if the seal of confession had been violated.

Most of these seem like mistakes made by someone who doesn't "get" Catholic spirituality, rather than things done to make Catholicism look bad. Except for that one man, none of the characters deal with sin through confession. Bible study either on their own, or with other lay people is their preferred spiritual practice.

As I said in my reviews of the other books, a story like this written by a Catholic who "gets" Catholicism would make my day because despite its flaws, this was an enjoyable read.


  1. Nice, honest review. Not being Catholic, I found your comments enlightening and educating. I can certainly see why this would affect your opinion of the books. It certainly would mine! I really liked the whole series, and this one was probably my favorite.

  2. I'm also not Catholic, so I found your detailed comments very interesting as well. It does seem a shame to not get these types of details right!


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