Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor

The Edge of Sadness
by Edwin O'Connor
1962 Pulitzer Prize
4 stars - intense and moving
ALR Blue - just people

After skipping a few years of books by the likes of Hemingway and Faulkner, I'm back to the Pulitzer reading list. This was a great point of re-entry.

The Edge of Sadness is a dense, meditative volume. Being the same age, 55, as the narrator, I fit perfectly into the target audience. People who have definitively crested the halfway mark in life and tend to have ruminations involving looking forward and back in equal proportion.

Most of the book takes place in the span of a few months. The narrator is Father Hugh Kennedy, a priest in an unnamed New England city. A sudden invitation to the birthday party of an old family friend is the launch point. Charlie Carmody, now in his eighties, is not a nice guy. In fact, he's a slum lord. But Father Hugh grew up with Charlie's family and is anxious in ways both good and bad to attend the party and reconnect with his childhood pals (those being the children of Charlie). 

Events aren't really the focus of the novel. In fact, nothing much happens at all. What does happen is that Father Hugh reflects on his life and the lives of those around him... a lot. While it was a bit stifling at times, I never found it to be dull. Because here I am, in my fifties, with so much of the same thoughts going through my head. Not just thoughts about myself, but about those around me. Understanding my peers in a new light as I consider from the vantage of middle age, the decisions made along the years and the whys and wherefores. 

The writing is brilliantly timeless. Almost devoid of any historical references (fashion, technology, politics), one is left only with the musings of people being people which transcends all time. The human condition. There aren't any great tragedies, alarming reveals, or heroics, but the reminder that all of our lives are momentous, at least to us.

I confess to feeling some fatigue after about 300 pages. Not because I was tired of the story, but because the constant intimacy of Father Hugh's thoughts almost overwhelmed me. 

I don't think this book is for everybody, but for me it was pretty darn awesome. 

Here's a nifty quote that made me smile in which Father Hugh encounters a fellow New Englander who sums up New England weather rather nicely.

They say it's the tropics that destroy health, but have you ever stopped to consider who the 'they' are who say this? They all come from Bangor or Providence. Not one of them ever mentions the simple medical fact that the month of March in the Massachusetts bronchial belt is infinitely more debilitating than malaria time in Panama. It's no accident that all the country's best hospitals are in Boston, you know: they want to be close to the source of supply.


  1. "It's no accident that all the country's best hospitals are in Boston, you know: they want to be close to the source of supply." HA! Possibly one of the best lines I've read in a very long time!

  2. My mother-in-law was always very much directed by what "they" say. And she was from Massachusetts. Coincidence? Introspective books like this are good when you have time, with not much pressing going on. And staring at my 54th birthday in 3 weeks, I can say that there's a lot of thoughts similar to what you describe going on around here.