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Morte D'Urban

A novel by

National Book Award for Fiction Best Book
A comic masterpiece by a criminally neglected writer, J.F. Powers's Morte D'Urban has had a checkered commercial history from the very start. The original publisher failed to reprint the novel after it won the 1963 National Book Award, and although it's had various paperback reincarnations since then, these too have tended to disappear from the shelves. Perhaps any novel about Catholic priests in the Protestant Midwest would be in for some tough sledding. Still, it's hard to think of a funnier piece of writing, or one more accurately attuned to the deadpan rhythms of American speech. Doubters need only consult Father Urban's sermons, which mix pure banality and theological hairsplitting in such exact proportions as to suggest Babbitt in a clerical collar. Yet Powers also manages a kind of last-minute legerdemain, transforming his satiric romp into a deadly serious, and deeply moving, exploration of faith.

The satire, of course, is itself worth the price of admission. Poor Father Urban, mired in a 10th-rate religious order!
It seemed to him that the Order of St. Clement labored under the curse of mediocrity, and had done so almost from the beginning. In Europe, the Clementines hadn't (it was always said) recovered from the French Revolution. It was certain that they hadn't ever really got going in the New World. Their history revealed little to brag about--one saint (the Holy Founder) and a few bishops of missionary sees, no theologians worthy of the name, no original thinkers, not even a scientist. The Clementines were unique in that they were noted for nothing at all.
The clash between this ecclesiastical overachiever and his underachieving brethren never loses its comedic charge. It also occasions plenty of politicking and ex cathedra combat, involving not only the Clementines but various diocesan heavyweights. Who will win this holy war? When Father Urban lures unbelievers to the order's Minnesota property with a world-class golf course--complete with a "shrine of Our Lady below No. 5 green"--his triumph seems assured. Yet his ability to balance between the secular and the sacred is what ultimately collapses, along with his "secret ascendancy over the life around him." In an age when fiction seems to have lost some of its power to instruct and amuse (and not necessarily in that order), Morte D'Urban is brilliant enough to make believers of us all. --James MarcusWinner of The 1963 National Book Award for Fiction.

The hero of J.F. Powers's comic masterpiece is Father Urban, a man of the cloth who is also a man of the world. Charming, with an expansive vision of the spiritual life and a high tolerance for moral ambiguity, Urban enjoys a national reputation as a speaker on the religious circuit and has big plans for the future. But then the provincial head of his dowdy religious order banishes him to a retreat house in the Minnesota hinterlands. Father Urban soon bounces back, carrying God's word with undaunted enthusiasm through the golf courses, fishing lodges, and backyard barbecues of his new turf. Yet even as he triumphs his tribulations mount, and in the end his greatest success proves a setback from which he cannot recover.

First published in 1962, Morte D'Urban has been praised by writers as various as Gore Vidal, William Gass, Mary Gordon, and Philip Roth. This beautifully observed, often hilarious tale of a most unlikely Knight of Faith is among the finest achievements of an author whose singular vision assures him a permanent place in American literature.

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Used availability for J F Powers's Morte D'Urban

See all available used copies of this book at Abebooks UK or Abebooks US

Hardback Editions

June 1962 : Hardback
thumbTitle: Morte D'Urban
Author(s): J F Powers
ISBN: 9997414411 / 978-9997414410
Publisher: Doubleday
Availability: Amazon CA   

Paperback Editions

May 2000 : USA Paperback
thumbTitle: Morte D'Urban (New York Review Books Classics)
Author(s): J F Powers
ISBN: 0-940322-23-4 / 978-0-940322-23-3 (USA edition)
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

January 1990 : USA Paperback
Title: Morte D'Urban
Author(s): J F Powers
ISBN: 0-671-68391-8 / 978-0-671-68391-7 (USA edition)
Publisher: Washington Square Press: NY
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

April 1985 : UK Paperback
thumbTitle: Morte D'Urban (Hogarth fiction)
Author(s): J F Powers
ISBN: 0-7012-0586-5 / 978-0-7012-0586-7 (UK edition)
Publisher: The Hogarth Press Ltd
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

1979 : USA Paperback
thumbTitle: Morte d'Urban
Author(s): J F Powers
ISBN: 0-394-74135-8 / 978-0-394-74135-2 (USA edition)
Publisher: Vintage Books
Availability: Amazon UK   

Kindle Editions

November 2012 : USA, Canada, UK Kindle edition
thumbTitle: Morte d'Urban (New York Review Books Classics)
Author(s): J F Powers
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

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