A errant priest and a vivid portrait of the New Orleans underworld.
Born in New Orleans, Gregory Alexander drew on his own upbringing to write his debut novel, “The Holy Mark.” The book, which originated as a short story, centers around Father Tony, a New Orleans priest of Italian descent with an unfortunate penchant for young boys, and his family, the Miggliores. Tony’s head carries an unusual, wine-colored birthmark — a mark that his grandmother declares a “sacred sign” compelling him to take Catholic orders.
Despite his abhorrent actions, Father Tony is a relatable character, if only because the reader knows all too well that pedophilia is a real issue within the church. Alexander defends his subject matter by explaining, “I didn’t want to write the next Oprah Book of the Month! I intended the book as an exploration of the deviant mind.”
Alexander, who holds a graduate degree in American literature from the University of New Orleans, writes in a calm, cadenced prose. He does a good job of drawing the reader in, and confidently renders scenes in specifics, always showing instead of telling. On a sentence level, language is a bit stilted at times.
In the end, readers may be less impacted by Father Tony’s cringeworthy behavior and criticisms of the Catholic church than by Alexander’s treatment of New Orleans. At times harsh, the author’s depiction of his native city is nevertheless based in historical fact and bolstered by detail that locals will recognize. It’s not a novel for the faint-of-heart or easily offended, but for those interested in delving into a well-wrought world of deviance and tradition, “The Holy Mark” is on target. theholymark.com