The Edge of Sadness cuts through sentiment

In the The Edge of Sadness, Edwin O’Connor explores the murky territory of late middle age through the experience of a Catholic priest.

When he returns East after four years in a facility for alcoholic priests,  Father Hugh Kennedy is posted to St. Paul’s. He  is content in the undemanding, shabby parish whose immigrant parishioners can spare little time from scratching a living to come to church.

An unexpected phone call from Charlie Carmody brings Father Kennedy back to his pre-bottle associations and face-to-face with the unpleasant truth that alcohol was not his only form of escapism.

Charlie wants something from Father Kennedy—Charlie always wants something—and he gets it: Charlie always gets his way. But afterward, he dies. Death comes to everyone in the end.

O’Connor’s intricate plot unfolds as a natural consequence of the personalities of his characters. From nasty, manipulative Charlie Carmody to the trusting, boyish Father Donowski, O’Connor’s characters are fully drawn human beings with distinctive absurdities.

In O’Connor’s skilled pen, Father Kennedy emerges as a figure with whom readers over 50 will immediately identify. When he is forced to confront his home truths, readers are forced to confront theirs.

The Edge of Sadness
By Edwin O’Connor
Little, Brown 1961
460 pages
1961 bestseller # 9
My Grade: A-

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Published by

Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

7 thoughts on “The Edge of Sadness cuts through sentiment”

    1. Hi, Lauren,
      I read The Bishop’s Man last month on your recommendation. I had mixed feelings about it.

      MacIntyre’s technique of having his chief character recall past experiences that trigger other memories gives a tremendous sense of reality to the novel. But I also found that having to keep the various stories straight made me unduly conscious of the technique MacIntyre was using. That awareness in the way of my understanding and enjoying the story. In short, I thought the novel’s realism got in the way.


  1. THE BISHOP’S MAN is contemporary, which will give you a break. And if you haven’t completely gorged on earlier work, Morley Callaghan’s SUCH IS MY BELOVED, also about a priest, 1934, is astonishingly beautiful. A not bad wikipedia entry here — Morley’s son, Barry, is also a wonderful writer. He’s “Exile Editions” and has published one of my books, and hopefully will soon publish another.


    1. I reserved a copy of The Bishop’s Man at the library. I’ll add the Callghan novel to my reading as well. Thanks for the recommendations.

      Of course, you must let me know when your book is out. I say I read only fiction at least 50 years old, but I make exceptions for books by friends.


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