Jon Hassler writes with insight about the Church in contemporary America, where much in its culture starves, rather than feeds, the spiritual hunger of clergy and laity. North of Hope’s depiction of a priest in crisis compares favorably to Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory and J. F. Powers’s Morte d’Urban. In addition to challenges facing priests in a secular society, the novel explores hope amid despair, prayer in daily life, and the healing properties of love.
As indicated by its title, the novel’s dominant theme is hope, a rare commodity, as Hassler’s characters find themselves north of hope both geographically and emotionally. Variously they desire restored faith in God and humanity, renewed health, recovery from addiction, dignity in old age, economic opportunity, and true love. However, hope seems alien to this isolated region. As Libby laments, “It’s like hope doesn’t reach this far north.” Even a fragile faith offers solace to the desperate, as Frank and his parishioners learn. When Libby and Verna take steps to mend their shattered family, it is their mutual hope for a better relationship that allows them to acknowledge each other’s pain and look past their own.
Whether spoken intentionally or uttered unaware, prayer is practiced by both the doubtful and the faithful in North of Hope. There are formal prayers, such as Father Lawrence’s liturgical recitation during his...
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