Book Notes

The Oracles Fell Silent

By Lee Oser, Professor of English    
Wiseblood Books

Professor Lee Oser has been a member of the Holy Cross community since 1998, when he was hired as an Edward Bennett Williams Fellow in English. Oser has published three books of literary criticism, and his debut novel, Out of What Chaos, was published in 2007. His most recent novel, The Oracles Fell Silent, allegorizes pop culture through a Catholic lens. The story follows young narrator Richard Bellman, the personal assistant for fictional, aging rock legend Sir Ted Pop. Holy Cross Magazine sat down with Lee Oser to discuss Oracles and the relationship between pop culture and faith.


Q  Who do you hope will pick up The Oracles Fell Silent?

A  I think the most important audience for any novel is the youth. I would really like to appeal to the sensibility of people who are 18 to 30. Young people are open-minded. When you’re a writer, you’re looking at the world from a certain angle, and you hope that you’ll reach an audience that will respond, get your humor and get what you’re doing. And I think there is more openness in that younger demographic. 


Q  Why do you think Catholic fiction has become a somewhat less prevalent genre since the days of Flannery O’Connor, for example?

A  We’ve developed a kind of polarity in our culture … It seems that those who produce culture such as the film industry and the publishing industry target two very different audiences: the conservative fundamentalists and the fundamentally secular. I think people are always interested in God, and the novelist’s job is not to be very preachy, but to speak to that element in the human imagination that is curious about permanent things, such as the nature of birth, life and death. There’s got to be some place in the middle.


Q  The Oracles Fell Silent frequently references Jesuit spirituality and values. How have the Jesuits and the principles of the Society of Jesus inspired your novel?

A  The great thing about the Jesuits is their engagement with the modern world. The Jesuits are very open to what is going on around us, and I think that’s a very important attitude—that is what makes art possible. The phrase “active contemplative,” often used to describe Jesuits, suggests a combination of spiritual discipline and study and yet also activity and engaging the world. I don’t go into writing with a fixed notion of the morals that I’m going to inculcate. I go into writing kind of listening, paying attention and negotiating the field, and I think that state of mind is something the Jesuits have taught me.


Q  In your studies you have defended Christian humanism. Could you elaborate a little bit on what that is and its significance?

A   I think it’s a fool’s errand to precisely define humanism or Christian humanism. The basic idea is realizing human potential. The arts are one way to realize human potential. As Christians, the best way we understand our creativity is through the creativity of God. We participate in it. It’s very exciting to realize human potential and participate in that divine power of creativity, which is not to be snared in a deterministic order.


Q  With album names such as “Major Moonberry” and “Private Soul,” the novel contains great references to 1960s rock ’n’ roll. We know you were a bass player in several rock bands, including The Riflebirds. What are your thoughts on rock ’n’ roll?

A  It’s funny because to this day, people play The Riflebirds; there’s a site for The Riflebirds, and people get very excited about it. People always get very excited about things from their youth. I gave up rock ’n’ roll because I realized I had to go out and face the next stage in my life and not get stuck forever in this youth culture. I wanted to live the rest of my life with a willingness to get old, a willingness to experience middle age. 


Q  What would you imagine the book’s fictional rock band, The Planets, sounding like?

A  It’s a three piece … a bit Who-like, but also reminiscent of McCartney and Lennon. 


Q  What do you hope readers will take away from your novel?

A  The most important thing for me is that they have a good time. I wanted to write an entertaining book, and I’m happy some commentators have said it is an entertaining book. As a novelist, I’m not out there to directly preach the gospel; I’m out there to keep an openness to certain big, important questions in life and also be kind of funny about it. I don’t really have any big dramatic moral designs. I hope to just make a moment merry.   ■
— Maureen Dougherty ’14


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In Backwards in High Heels: Faith Whittlesey, Reagan’s Madam Ambassador in Switzerland and the West Wing, Thomas Carty ’91, chair of the social sciences department at Springfield (Mass.) College, tells the story of Faith Whittlesey’s career as an effective “Madam Ambassador” in the worlds of both money and politics. Raised in western New York State by highly motivated Irish-American parents of limited means, she worked to reach an eminent position as President Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to Switzerland (twice), and to serve as the highest-ranking woman on Reagan’s White House staff from 1983 to 1985. ■