Lust is the Thorn
Thorn McKinney and Rose Gallagher are full of lust for each other, and always have been. But when Rose’s brother died in a drunk-driving accident (Thorn was driving; Rose thinks her brother was), Thorn swore to take care of Rose, and also vowed to make something of his life after causing so much pain. The only way to do this, apparently, was to enter the priesthood. Thorn isn’t a priest yet, he’s just late in his seminary life, so the whole conflict I signed up for isn’t actually present. Then Rose gets injured and needs help, so Thorn whisks her off to a fellow priest’s lake-house (?) for recuperation. And lust. Lots of lust.
What plot there was was utterly predictable. I knew exactly how Thorn would get around being a priest, since he wasn’t one yet. The guy who attacked Rose and injured her was spotted hanging around; gee, that never leads to anything. And then Thorn’s big driving secret? I wonder if he’ll tell Rose! I wonder if she’ll forgive him! There is a line in this book where Rose reflects, “I knew how this ended. So did he. Why were we torturing ourselves with this? Why were we trying to prolong the inevitable, when we both knew the outcome?” This is exactly how I felt reading this book.
The plot was maybe 15% of the page count. Just about everything else was these characters wallowing in mental lusting and rueing the assumed futility of their lust, but then going ahead and acting lustful anyway. Every few chapters was a repeat of “I want him/her… but it’s doomed. I need to stop and get over it. But I can’t. We’ll do this one thing, and then nothing ever again. Because we can’t ever be together.” And man, were there things. Oral sex, vaginal sex – the priest brakes were definitely not applied on Thorn’s Sex Train to Roseville.
The characterization of Thorn as a priest was thinner than a communion wafer. Thorn swears constantly and is quite vulgar (I did not appreciate him thinking that Rose’s brother would be upset with him because he had just “banged” Rose.) He has a five-o’clock-shadow, which is not typically acceptable at Catholic seminary. Most egregiously, he never seems to think about religion or God. He doesn’t pray. He doesn’t talk theologically, never referencing or considering scripture or Church doctrine as he grapples with his and Rose’s dilemmas. In terms of his own career, he says, flat out, that he “decided to become a priest because at the time, it was pretty much the worst possible life I could imagine living. It was the one way to deny myself the life I really wanted. It had been my own form of life in prison.” I’d like to say that the author set the character up this way so we could see that he is unfit for the priesthood, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt both insulting to people who do pursue vocations, and like lazy writing, a cheap trick for avoiding dealing with a complex crisis of faith and vocation. Thorn wants Rose. He never wanted God. Hey presto, easy resolution.
Plus, after that sex he and Rose have, the author explains that he went to confession, so it’s all ok. That is definitely not how things work in Catholicism, let alone seminary.
Rose was better written. She is a child of a lousy neighborhood and a bad family. It felt authentic when she marveled at ordinary and even low-brow things in an apartment Thorn rents for her. Despite her tough talk, she has poor self-esteem, trying to talk herself out of loving Thorn by telling herself “He was meant for greater things than being my man.” It was touching and sad to see her thinking of herself so meanly, and I liked seeing her work through that issue. Her reaction to the drunk-driving revelation was satisfyingly complex (Thorn’s, predictably, was not). On the other hand, she annoyed me at times with her tough facade. Yelling about how you don’t need help at the guy who just picked you up from the hospital and is sheltering and feeding you shows a certain lack of self-awareness.
Besides Rose, and a generally credible atmosphere of poverty, the book has the selling point of competent writing. It has the melodrama one ought to expect from a book called Lust is the Thorn, but I’m more forgiving of that when the narrators are first-person and the characters themselves are overwrought. It’s strong by contemp standards, but not so unusual compared with the NA I’ve read.
Long story short, I was looking for a book that delved into a modern priest’s crisis of secular vs divine love, and this wasn’t it. You may find some fun with what it is, especially if you like a lot of “Yes! No! Farewell! Yes again!” lusting. You may, but I didn’t.