Feelin’ Good as a Catholic DilemmanMary Gordon: Final Payments;nRandom House; New York.nby Christopher ManionnIsabel Moore, it seems, has a problem:nher father, whom she nursednthrough eleven years of illness, has died,nand she must get on with the businessnof living—sell the house, get a job, meetnnew friends, and decide what to do withnher life. She must step gingerly acrossnthe threshold to a world which she hasnscarcely noticed since she was nineteen.nAll in all, the makings of a good story.nBut Isabel Moore has another problem:nshe is a Catholic. That is, she was raisedna Catholic, and part of her problem liesnin the truth of what every Catholic learnsnin grade school: there is no such thingnas an ej:-Catholic. And that is preciselynwhat Isabel Moore wants to be. She hasnlived eleven years in one kind of unrealitynand seeks comfort (she wouldnlike that term) in another. The readernmight find the story line uninspired, andnthe transparent development of the supportingncharacters a blessing in disguise.nIt saves more attention for Isabel’s confrontationnwith her father, his faith, andnher future.nTo this subtle sequence of still Hfes,nwhich culminates in the epiphany ofnIsabel Moore, author Mary Gordon devotesna talent which manages to depictnbrutality and devotion with an equallynsoft touch. In fact, they often seem synonymous.nThis is a part of Isabel Moore’snproblem, and it, of course, becomes MarynGordon’s problem because she choosesnto articulate the Catholic Isabel and thenCatholic Church with the same tirednrunes usually reserved for the runawaynpriests who elope with the nun whontaught your sister in sixth grade. These,nas we are all supposed to know, arenMr. Manion, a graduate of Notre Dame,nis Assistant to the Director of the RockfordnCollege Institute.n10nChronicles of Culturendrunk, insensitive priests, dealing withnhungry children whose parents sendnmoney to some lunatic in Canada whonthinks he has the stigmata. There is nonrelief. The bigotry is by nature oppressive,neven hackneyed (like ex-communists,nex-Catholics are the most devotedncritics of their former selves), but innIsabel Moore we see no escape to reality,nonly a resurrection into nothingness.nThe pearl of great price becomes a blackened,ncharred remnant of a faith easilyndiscarded for whatever bleak “life” isnleft in the world.nBleak, indeed. Isabel’s two childhoodnfriends, Liz and Eleanor, represent thentwo sources of her inspiration for thenfuture. Liz is married, has two children,nand lives in the country. Her Irish politiciannhusband has many lovers, amongnwhom he soon includes Isabel; Liz,nchastened, enjoys a lesbian lover whonraises horses next door. Eleanor, on thenother hand, offers the lifestyle of thensingle city girl—long books, relaxingnbaths, leisurely Sunday brunches. Shenlived with her boyfriend until he gotntired of her after six years and kickednher out. She might go back to graduatenschool. In her slow emergence into thenworld, Isabel oscillates between thesentwo influences with wide-eyed naivete.nThe only experience all three really sharenis a common hatred of the Church whichnthey inherited from their childhoods.nMore on the supporting cast: MargaretnCasey, who kept house for Isabel’snfather after his wife died (when Isabelnwas three), represents everything tawdrynin the faith which hasn’t already beenndiscredited by Isabel’s father and all hisnpriest friends. Isabel remembers hern”when the touch of her damp fingerncould sicken me for the afternoon.”nMargaret now lives in upstate New Yorknand writes Isabel letters which wallownin self-pity under the guise of acceptingnsuffering; and Isabel detests her. Almostnas much as she detests herself. For Isabelnbears a burden of guilt which stretchesnlike an unbroken line from the bed wherennnher father found her with his best studentn(this, she is convinced, caused hisnstroke three weeks later) to the fingernof the wife of the man she wants tonmarry—if he gets a divorce—shakingnat her an inch away from her face, innthe middle of her crowded office. Thenunredeemed quality of her shame—onenso perverse that the Church has no namenfor it, thus cannot forgive it—drivesnIsabel to pursue her own self-imposednsoteriology—hence the eleven years ofn”selfless” service to her father’s dyingncorpse, and the culminating exile innservice of Margaret Casey, in search ofnmeaningless suffering which will nicelynreflect the brutality of the faith whichnshe hates, but cannot replace. LiKe hernfather, it is dying but refuses to die. Innseeking to love the unlovable Margaretnshe redeems the lack of meaning whichnsurrounded the sickbed in Queens andnthe bed in the next room where she hadnbeen found with her lover. God demandsn”There i.s however, more; the electric prose.nOn whether love i.s measured by sacrifice:n’wrong . . . because the minute I gave upnsomething for someone 1 like them less’n. . . On sexual technique: ‘He handled mynbreast as if he were inaking a meatball.’ Anfirst-cla.ss writer declares herself with know-nmg art.n—John Leonardnin the New York Timesnpayment for her “special gifts”— intelligence,nbeauty —and she accepts thisncruelty without question.nThe reader searches in vain for anglimmer of insight to illuminate thenredemptive value of suffering in the eyesnof the Church which Gordon pretendsnto portray. The perceptive qualitiesnwoven through the other dimensions ofnthe narrative —a cool, unemotionalnfreshness in touching things human,neven emotion itself—imply by defaultnthe shabby, tired quality of the Catholicismnof Isabel Moore. Surely, we mustnthink to ourselves, such a perceptivenauthor would have portrayed a richernfaith if the Faith were indeed richer.n