All for Now sounds like it could be a tough read because it deals with clergy sexual abuse and death. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Deploying intelligence and humor, author Joseph Di Prisco examines his subject in an engaging and entertaining way, and the end result is anything but morbid.
The novel recounts the immediate afterlife of Brother Stephen, a member of a Catholic teaching brotherhood who dies as his order is facing multiple lawsuits over sexual abuse. Stephen became a Brother right after graduating from the very high school he would teach in. After 20 years, he became an administrator, just about the time abuse allegations against priests were becoming rampant. The Brothers were no exception, and Stephen oversaw the fiscal aspects of the ensuing settlements.
On the day he died, his order was discussing the case of Shannon Reed, who said she had been molested by Brother Joel, now deceased, and had had her charges summarily dismissed by Brother Charlie, an octogenarian who was the principal at the time.
The case was particularly painful to Stephen. Shannon had been a very close friend of his in high school, and Charlie had been his teacher and mentor in the Brotherhood. Facing this difficult situation, Brother Stephen keels over in the middle of a meeting.
Stephen was a keen observer in life, and he is of the afterlife as well, which features a white Prius he drives around the California coast. He meets some of the people he had known in life, but his most dogged companion is Brother Charlie, whom Stephen discovers in the trunk of the car.
Brother Stephen is a sympathetic character with a wry sense of humor, which ironically infuses the story of his death with liveliness. As he careens through his afterlife, which most closely resembles a dream with its fanciful aspects, he hears himself interviewed on NPR, and visits jumbled scenes from his life, most prominently high school. Puzzled, Stephen tries to figure out what is going on. What’s going on is that he must finally face the truth of his life.
Brother Stephen tackles his death experience with an aplomb he apparently never managed in life, and we root for him the whole way through his afterlife adventures. Each chapter begins with a quote from the Baltimore Catechism (which, according to Wikipedia, was the “de facto standard Catholic school text in the United States from 1885 to the late 1960s”). No doubt this construction will speak most to those who were raised Catholic.
Catholic or not, religious or not, All for Now is accessible to everyone because mistakes and forgiveness are universal. A novel about a serious topic that is no downer, both All for Now and its protagonist come to a satisfying end.
Article first published as Book Review: All for Now by Joseph Di Prisco on Blogcritics.