I finished this little number at the salon today, while I sat waiting for the color to sink in, and lo how the tears trickled down my cheeks when I reached the last section, which was titled in stark italic letters, "Death Comes for the Archbishop." As if it were a surprise! And yet I was surprised.
It's a deceptively simple story with the detached air of a fairy tale to it, of the decades-long efforts of a proper French bishop and his little rabbit-like vicar to establish a Catholic diocese across the immense territory of New Mexico in the mid-1800s. The two men express their faith and friendship in fundamentally different ways, yet both attend to their task with an inherent respect for the customs of the Mexicans and Indians whose history they're nevertheless helping to overwrite. What meanders in plot is divine in the telling, not heavy with action but with happening, the happening of the years and miles and ages of a hard existence passed in the rough weather of a brutal landscape, and the depths to which they dig themselves into the earth and the air of the American Southwest suggests that even French Catholic priests have a little bit of cowboy in their blood.