Picks and Pans Review: Ascent into Hell

UPDATED 06/20/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/20/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Andrew M. Greeley

A handsome Irish-American lad in Chicago is promised to the priesthood at birth as his mother's life hangs in the balance. When he grows up, he dutifully takes his vows but is only partially successful in repressing his sexual feelings. This is the world of the American Catholic novel, and its subject is sex and more sex. All the characters are stereotypes, and the plot is utterly familiar: There is hanky-panky by the priest's bad-boy brother, and some silver ingots wind up at the bottom of a swimming pool. The priest goes to prison on a bum rap. But his sexy former teenage sweetie, who has become a bank president, comes to his rescue. Greeley, the author of The Cardinal Sins and Thy Brother's Wife and a priest himself, tries to justify this foolishness by maintaining: "There is not a character or incident in my story, I think, without a scriptural counterpart, and not a story in scripture that would not shock us if we listened to it carefully." But the scriptures were not written to become instant best-sellers. Their purpose was moral and historical. What is shocking about Ascent Into Hell is that the book is so deliberately sleazy. (Warner Books, $16.50)

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