(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

True Confessions is the story of two brothers, Tom and Des Spellacy. The novel begins and ends in the 1970’s, when Tom has retired from the police department and Des, an ambitious Catholic clergyman, is spending the last of his thirty years of exile in a small, neglected parish. Somehow Tom’s actions have led to his brother’s downfall, and the heart of the novel, “Then” (set in the 1940’s), tells the story that leads to “Now,” the first and last chapters.

The first “Now” section centers on Des’s call to Tom. Why, Tom wonders, is he being summoned to Des’s parish in the desert? The brothers have been intensely preoccupied with each other and yet estranged. Although one has chosen a career in the police department and the other the church, they are both worldly men. Tom cannot seem to live down his corrupt period on the vice squad, when he was “on the take,” acting as a bagman for Jack Amsterdam, a pillar of the church and a supposedly legitimate contractor who is in fact a thug with numerous illicit enterprises. Amsterdam is the link between the careers of the two brothers, since Des has relied on Amsterdam to construct many of the church’s most impressive buildings, even though Des knows that Amsterdam has padded his payroll and physically intimidated other contractors so that they have not put in bids for church construction projects. Des has also functioned as a kind of enforcer for Cardinal Danaher, who is trying to centralize power by depriving parish priests of their autonomy.

When the two brothers meet in the opening section of the novel, Des tells Tom that he is dying. It is this announcement that precipitates the...

(The entire section is 689 words.)

True Confessions Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Dunne, John Gregory. “The Art of Screenwriting II: John Gregory Dunne.” Interview by George Plimpton. Paris Revue 38 (Spring, 1996): 282-308. In spite of the title, this interview concerns Dunne’s fiction as well, concentrating especially on problems with plotting his novels.

Dunne, John Gregory. Harp. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. This autobiography explores the roots of Dunne’s Irishness and his use of it in his fiction.

Dunne, John Gregory. Interview by Dermot McEvoy. Publishers Weekly 241 (August 22, 1994): 30-31. Focuses on Dunne’s Hollywood novel Playland. Dunne also discusses his handling of Catholicism, the Irish, and Southern California.

Fine, David, ed. Los Angeles in Fiction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984. Contains one chapter on Dunne’s treatment of the city.

Winchell, Mark Royden. John Gregory Dunne. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1986. An informative introductory study that includes a useful bibliography.