For lack of something to read, I pulled down a book from my book shelf which I had not read. Andrew Greeley at one time was one of my favorite novelists; his earlier novels Irish Gold and Irish Lace caught my interest with his smooth characterization and subject matter which resonated with my own young adulthood. Summer at the Lake is of the same genre; an upper middle class family befriends a school friend who is from a lower class but nevertheless gets by very well because of his charisma and good looks. There is usually a priest in Andrew Greeley’s stories, as Greeley himself is a priest; there are also those of Irish extraction which is also familiar ground to the author.
You can count on controversies concerning the Church when you take on Andrew Greeley. At the time of his writing Summer at the Lake, the issues of those years pale in comparison to today’s problems in the church. The birth control issue is discussed as well as celibacy among the clergy and the ordination of women. These are merely background subjects, as the main premise of the story revolves around the group of school friends in the 1970’s who search for meaning in their lives, hoping to choose the right career and the right life partner.
Greeley’s stories always give the reader the sense of being autobiographical. His knowledge of people, their motives, their sorrows, their likes and dislikes, could only be gleaned from personal experience. His characters are so finely drawn that they could be friends that you know in your own life experience.
Leo Kelly, the outsider, is befriended by the Keenan family whose son Patrick, or Packy, is now an ordained priest. Another outsider, Jane Devlin, a rare beauty whose family has some questionable traits with regard to their newfound wealth, is loved to one degree or another by Leo Kelly, Father Packy Keenan, and by the man who won her over by default, Phil Clare. Leo, who initially seemed to be the front runner in Jane Devlin’s affections, was sent to Korea through a mysterious change of orders which never came to light until 30 years later. When he was presumed dead, Jane married Phil Clare through her mother’s urging, although he never proved faithful to Jane, even on their honeymoon.
Andrew Greeley is unafraid of showing the human side of a priest’s life. Father Packy’s love for Jane is equal to Leo Kelly’s love for her. Also, Packy’s disenchantment with some of the hierarchy to whom he owes obedience is laid out for all of us to see.
I daresay one would have to be Catholic to understand and to accept the dilemmas that are presented here for our musings. It is certainly rare entertainment to ponder all of the issues that are laid out in this highly charged description of likeable, successful characters who happen to have flaws like the rest of us.
Summer at the Lake by Andrew Greeley (1997)