When Matt Murray is 13 years old, his mother, a gifted writer and an unconventional Catholic, dies. His father, an official in the Washington, D.C., city government, suddenly changes jobs. He functions poorly as a single parent, and the family, a sister and two brothers, begins to drift apart.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote an obituary for Jonathan Edwards's theology: "The truth is that [his] whole system of beliefs . . . is gently fading out of enlightened human intelligence, and we are hardly in a condition to realize what a tyranny it once exerted over many of the strongest minds." Holmes's pronouncement was premature.
Two days after graduating from high school, I reported for duty as a summertime relief reporter for the Moline Daily Dispatch, where I covered cops and robbers, city councils and school boards, births and deaths, train wrecks and bubble-gum contests at the city parks.