Review by Rox Burkey

Author Phil Stephens delivers a historical fictional memoir centered around the Catholic Church, family, and the 1960s. The story is told through the eyes of Carl Sanders when he and his brother, Mike, get together for drinks and reminiscing in the 1980s. In many ways it truly is a dark tale, because it feels so realistic.

The duplicitous church clergy was pivotal to Carl during these years even as he sought the position as an altar boy. The shameful behavior of the priest and Madeline led to arguments and destruction of the family. Dean and Madeline have five children, which was typical of Catholic families of the period. The family dynamics shifted as Father Jacobson further inserted himself into the family. Whether Madeline or Father Jacobson overstepped was difficult for a young boy to clearly identify. It was clear that mom and dad could not cohabitate.

Author Stephens description of characters is very detailed. He optimizes the prose yet brings all the senses of the reader into play. A great example of this is illustrated in the following.  

“It all came down to a Catholic priest – a Father Jacobson – and the pitched battle between him and my dad for the souls of our family. Father Jacobson was not the normal, run-of-the-mill Catholic priest. He didn’t even come close. He had been the superintendent of the two high-profile Catholic high schools in the area. Not a tall man, he had a hearty laugh, good wit, and a love for Scotch whiskey. I rarely saw him without a fat cigar sticking out of his mouth. To this day the smell of cigar smoke reminds me of Father Jacobson. A friend and counselor to the rich and famous, he was politically well connected with Bridgeport politics and was the chaplain of the city’s police department. He was also one of the most narcissistic human beings I have ever known.”

References of those times in music, freedom in suburban neighborhoods, rise of the hippie influence, and demands of the Catholic Church are realistic. There are highs and lows, laugher and tears, and a desire to recover the innocence of a young boy that was cruelly lost. The dysfunctional behavior between the adults, even with the father giving up only negatively impacted the children and family.

I liked the viewpoint of the story and references to the 60s. No doubt I disliked the behavior of the priest and parents. This is a story that you will enjoy if you like historical fictions and what to see it from the eyes of a youth rather than the typical older adult looking back. I would like your feedback.

About the Author

Phil Stephens is an Indiana native and a graduate of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, and of the Dale Carnegie Course. He spent many years working in Fortune 500 America. Raised in a solidly Catholic family, he attended Catholic grade schools in the 1960s and served as an Altar Boy. His writing has appeared in the local newspaper and Pen IT literary magazine. His passions include reading in his favorite genres–history and horror. He also enjoys cooking, exercising, and the environment. Stephens resides in beautiful Brown County in Southern Indiana with his wife Marie, and has an adopted granddaughter, Crystal Maiden, in the Philippines.

Phil’s book was named the 2016 gold medal winner in the International Publisher Awards for Best Contemporary Novel. In the video on this page, Phil is interviewed by popular talk radio host Jordan Rich about book — and what’s behind it. He is also a member of RRBC. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon


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