(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Luke Ripley, who narrates his own experience, is fifty-four, a divorced father of four who lives in northeastern Massachusetts, near the New Hampshire line and the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently neither rich nor poor, he runs a stable, boarding and renting out thirty horses and giving riding lessons. Luke still broods over the Wednesday that his wife, Gloria, left with the kids and a trailer, some ten or so years earlier.

Largely a solitary person, Luke is a friend of Father Paul LeBoeuf, the balding, sixty-four-year-old pastor of a nearby Catholic church. Father LeBoeuf, of French-Canadian descent in a church still dominated by the Irish, has been a weekly visitor to Luke’s house since before Luke’s marriage failed. No longer willing to ride horseback, Father Paul still takes long walks with Luke and finds time occasionally to join him fishing and duck hunting. An earthy man of simple yet profound piety, Father LeBoeuf listens with understanding to Luke’s spiritual dilemmas and to his rebellious objections to a church that he loves but does not always respect.

Luke’s self-reliant life is generally happy—or at least content. He has nearly gotten over missing his wife, if not watching his three sons and a daughter grow. He accepts church regulations forbidding divorced Catholics to remarry and—more reluctantly—celibacy, confessing that he has had two brief affairs in the intervening years. He has come to grips with his lonesome life through an appreciation of nature and an orderly routine. He does his own cooking, reads an occasional detective story, and follows the baseball season. His business provides him the opportunity for rides through a countryside to which he responds more sympathetically than most contemporary males.

Like many believing Catholics of the late twentieth century, Luke has modified the strictures of his church to suit his particular needs. Some of these modifications are slightly eccentric, for example, his refusal to support his parish church despite his friendship with its pastor. Convinced in a...

(The entire section is 845 words.)