Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about generational sin – the negative behaviors and attitudes that get passed down from parent to child over and over again. We are all a product of our upbringing. As most of us realize sometime in our teens (if not sooner), our parents are people and they are flawed. No one has a perfect childhood and most of us experience enough dysfunction to write a book.
By the same token, we go on to become imperfect parents. Even with our best efforts, we mess up this challenging parenting experience. We may make a conscious effort to parent differently from the way we were raised, but we still make a boatload of mistakes; we just make different ones.
A Good Girl (Texas Review Press), a new Catholic novel by Johnnie Bernhard, tackles the subject of generational sin in one Irish-American family. Gracey Reiter is heading home to South Texas to be with her father, Henry, as he dies. She’s suffering through the “emotional abyss of a three-decade-old marriage” in which she is a low priority in her husband’s life and trying to prepare for her daughter’s wedding. Going back home forces Gracey to look back at her own troubled childhood and the various life stories of a few generations of grandparents, starting with Patricia Walsh, a fourteen-year old girl who travelled to America to escape the poverty of County Galway, Ireland.
Bernhard deftly weaves together the past and present in this raw, thought-provoking novel. Some of the stories are truly heartbreaking. There are a couple of troubling moments from a Catholic perspective – Gracey goes to bed with her future husband on their first date, and the family spreads Henry’s ashes instead of burying them (which is against Church teaching) – but overall, A Good Girl is a moving story that ends with forgiveness and hope for the future.
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