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Heretic, by Jerome Tuccille

The Catholic experience has long held an odd sort of fascination for me. While I'm sure I grew up with several Catholic friends, for whatever reason none identified themselves as such to me, and my knowledge was limited to rumor or academic writings on the subject. And both fueled my protestant-based imagination: What really went on in those confessional booths?; Could people really live all their lives in a state of sexual chastity (let alone happily)?; And how could so many people take seriously an institution whose top person could issue a written edict and – Wham! – a long-standing rule (such as priests' being able to marry, or conducting services in Latin) was changed? As I grew older and got to know some Catholics, the phenomenon of Catholic guilt increased my curiosity, much as a car wreck turns heads. With Heretic, Jerome Tuccille's partial autobiography dealing with his tumultuous relationship with the Catholic church and to a lesser extent, his broader spiritual explorations, I have at last gained some greater measure of understanding.

Written in second person narrative, Heretic focuses on Tuccille's Italian Catholic childhood and young adulthood, jumping backward and forward in the story in a way that at first doesn't seem to make sense, but does ultimately work well. A bright boy, Tuccille's explorations into religious issues take him too far, sending him away from the Catholic church ... but distancing himself from the faith proves more challenging. Trying to cope with high parental expectations in an unhappy family situation—as well as rising male hormones—interweave with the spiritual theme in a way that allowed me to feel more immersed in Tuccille's story than I would have imagined.

And Tuccille's story is ultimately more about spiritual needs and explorations than it is the Catholic church. The need to find or create some context that satisfactorily answers fundamental questions of our existence and purpose runs very deep; even atheists can ponder these issues for years. I certainly have. While the conclusion of Heretic may seem too simplistic or trite for some, for me it was exactly right: an acknowledgement of the inherent but often overlooked spiritual power within one.

As is the case with living in general, it isn't the destination but the journey that matters. And I'll admit, when I first picked up Heretic and saw the unusual second-person voice, I had concerns over whether I would be able to put myself in Tuccille's place. After all, much of the story is intensely male in perspective, and honeypots just don't have the same fascination for me. Despite Tuccille's light touch on subjects that are more likely to be of interest to pro-freedom individuals—particularly his experiences in the Ayn Rand collective and with other luminaries—I did find a great deal to connect with. His extraordinarily clean text, as best as I can recall devoid of typos or awkward spell-checker corrections-that-aren't, made absorption into his narrative easier too.

With its focus on spiritual issues, especially from a Catholic perspective, some freedom lovers may wonder if Heretic offers anything worthwhile to those unconcerned with those realms. Being a coming of age story of sorts, as well as a discovery of freedom story (albeit in a minor role here—perhaps Tuccille's planning to pen another memoir that will delve into that aspect of himself more fully), Heretic is also an intensely personal historical vignette that's interesting and relevant to any free and deep thinker.

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