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Catholic Boys

By: Philip Cioffari
Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson
Livingston Press, 2007
$15.95, Paperback

Through Catholic Boys, Philip Cioffari offers a lens to peek into a dismal space—the place where innocence is lost and humanity is challenged—to share the pain and heartache that surrounds the death of a child and to inspire his reader "to seek the light amid the darkness."

Catholic boys sometimes grow up with hard truths, at least in the world that Cioffari writes. In the Bronx, circa 1960, Catholic boys are blue collar, closely watched hoods bent on harming others or blue collar, nearly ignored weaklings who are attacked for their elegant motions and their apparent homosexuality. Catholic boys know what to do and what not to do, and they are sometimes hell bent on judgment in the Bronx that Cioffari portrays.

Cioffari tells three stories in Catholic Boys: one is of Alex Ramsey, police officer turned tenement security guard, who has lost a son to a terrible accident; another is of a string of sadistic murders of boys who are roughly the age Ramsey’s son would be had he lived; the last is of a system of abuse that occurs within the diocese.

In Alex Ramsey, Cioffari captures a character as real as flesh, a man of written words who seems nearly able to step from the page to show rather than describe himself and his heartache. In doing this, Cioffari proves himself not only a powerful writer who has both a sense of character and story, but also a deep thinker who can extend to his characters something more powerful than mere words. He gives them each identity, so that they become the tellers of the story as well, rather than mere props to it.

These are hard tales to relate. No outsider can truly know the pain of a parent suffering from the loss of a child; that pain is always unique. No spectator can truly understand the fear and waste that a child knows when he faces his murderer; such emotion is incomprehensible to the human mind—it simply is without explanation. Few can fathom or explain the desire to secure a position of authority, however holy, only to create a hegemony that gives one sexual power. These are tales untellable, yet Cioffari unfolds them like a map to explain not only a time and place, but also a way of being, of thinking. As these tales parallel and intersect, Cioffari proves the assertion that "Tragedy is a matter of timing, a confluence of details."

Treasure Ingels-Thompson lives and writes in Montevallo.

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