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FICTION : THE CATHOLIC by David Plante (Atheneum, $11.95).

May 11, 1986|Malcolm Boyd

This is a fictional study of sexual obsession. "Inside the museum, I wandered from room to room. I stopped when I came to the Attic statue of a boy's torso. . . . I looked around to make sure I was alone in the room; I got near the statue and delicately touched its thigh, then quickly withdrew it. . . . I wanted the inaccessible body. . . . It came to me that that torso, in the warm spring light, was more naked than any body I had ever seen."

Then, there was Charlie. "His body gave his talk subtlety, or whatever subtlety there was in it. That was Charlie's secret: He was able to infuse his words with the beauty of his body, and while you listened to him, you sensed the warmth of his skin in the words which would otherwise have been dead."

Finally, Daniel meets Henry. "I recognized what happened to me when I became possessed. I could hardly take in that young man, except in details: not an ear, but the lobe of an ear; not his neck and chin, but the curve of his jaw under the earlobe; not his hair, but a fine curl behind his ear. . . . What came now was that sense, that deepeningly amazed sense, of something happening to me for which you will give up everything." Later: "I made a crazy act of faith: in the certain knowledge that our love making had no meaning, I nevertheless believed that it did."

Daniel's love for Henry must mean everything: His faith in the idea of such meaning would be all the faith he had. "He left me with a desire for faith which was impossible. . . . There was nothing I could do but ask myself where such desire came from. Where did such awareness, never to be fulfilled, come from? Why was there such a sense of promise in us, if the promise would never be kept? Why should we so want what we knew we would never get?"

This is a harrowing, finely honed piece of fiction that probes passion and guilt, identity and relationship, carrying a reader inside the whirling, moon-drenched, star-fraught universe of one man who is both the erotic and the Catholic.

Yet a deeper form of insatiable yearning, which one might even call spiritual eroticism, is implicit. These lines in the "Divine Poems" of John Donne come to mind:

Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I Except you enthrall, never shall be free, Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

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