I just finished reading a novel by Brendan Lyons, a Catholic pro-life author. The novel consists in the stories of a series of characters dealing with the ethical issues of abortion in different ways. There is a politician who is a pro-life Democrat, but under heavy pressure from his party to give up his moral principles. His wife is a doctor who is also pro-life but under heavy pressure from the management at the hospital to compromise her views. Both of these individuals risk their careers if they uphold their commitment to pro-life values. Then, after detailing the struggles of these characters, the novel expands to include a high-schooler who tries to start a group in support of the unborn, an aging priest who takes up a new prison ministry that reinvigorates his career, and a teenager who becomes pregnant. These characters gradually come together over the course of the novel. Initially, it is not clear how they are connected, and one of the wonderful parts of this novel is seeing characters from earlier sections emerge in the lives of the characters you have just met. In the background you can sense a providential hand guiding each of the characters in their struggle to do the right thing.
There a lot of telling and poignant details in this novel, as well as a lot of reasoned reflection in the dialogue. Some examples: Kevin, who impregnated the teenage girl, goes to a priest in the confessional to seek some advice. The priest responds nimbly that love is different from affection. Readers can immediately agree with the distinction. Love involves a deeper sacrifice than the mere feelings of fondness associated with affection. The priest makes this point because Kevin is told by those around him to stay out of the decision of his girlfriend as to what to do about the pregnancy. Of course, this advice makes no sense, as he is the father, but this is one of the telling details Lyons includes that I think reflect the real situation of those dealing with an unplanned pregnancy in our culture. When talking to his girlfriend’s friend about what to do, the friend tells him to let the girlfriend make the decision on her own and not cloud her judgment by getting involved. This advice shows the extreme deference given to the women’s choice that has permeated our culture. All anyone can do when a woman gets pregnant is to offer a vague and unconditional support, because anything more is a violation of her absolute freedom. The commitment to the absolute freedom of the woman, though, has painful ramifications for the father, who has every right to have a say in the matter. Another interesting detail Lyons includes that, when a high-school student puts posters around the school promoting her new pro-life club, they are torn down by other students and the principal claims that the club has to be dissolved because it is creating too much controversy. America is supposed to a country that promotes free speech, and the pro-life agenda, even though one may disagree with it, is one that reasonable people can hold. So, people have to tolerate its presence even though they may not like it. But, there are many occasions when people who are pro-choice become savage in their objections to pro-life positions. Another good part of the novel is delving into the complex, fascinating moral dilemmas of the senator and his wife. It seems there is justification for both options in the dilemmas of these characters. For instance, the Senator at one point is on the losing end of a presidential primary, but is offered the position of vice president if he forms a partnerships with a strong pro-choice politician. The Senator could do a lot of good as vice president and would give new life to his political career, but at the same time he would have to provide political support to a fiercely pro-choice president.
My criticism of the novel has to do with a character who is a prisoner on death row, Mr. Senez, who is a convicted murderer. I didn’t like this character because he seemed so implausible. He talks in an awkward, elevated manner. At one point, he says, “I intend, short time that I have left, to sit in this cell, eat and drink what is given to me, and pray to the Lord for serenity.” At another he says, “What is it Mr. Tolkien said? Even the wisest cannot see all ends?” I think if Lyons had made this character more realistic, his desire to defend not only the pro-life position with respect to abortion but also that with respect to the death penalty would have been better served. As it is, Senez seems fake and subservient to Lyons moral goals.