US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Read: The Powers

By Catherine O'Connell-Cahill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

By Valerie Sayers (Northwestern University, 2013)

Any novel in which the characters converse with Hall of Fame Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio and his roommate Lefty Gomez, Catholic Worker cofounder Dorothy Day, and photographer extraordinaire Walker Evans is worth a look for this reader. But The Powers is worth far more than that.

Valerie Sayers vividly portrays New York in the summer of 1941: the looming entry of America into World War II, news reports of Jews rounded up in Europe and Jewish refugees refused entry into the United States, Dorothy Day caring for the poor down on Mott Street, and Walker Evans surreptitiously snapping photos on the subway. And, front and center, Joe DiMaggio’s amazing 56-game hitting streak, which began on May 15 against the Chicago White Sox and pounded along to its midsummer conclusion on July 16.

The Powers follows 17-year-old Agnes O’Leary and her squat, lame grandmother Babe, a passionate Yankee fan who has unhappily transplanted herself to her son’s flat in Brooklyn, home of the despised Dodgers, to watch over his four daughters after his wife dies. Agnes is escorted around town by Joe and Bernie, two Catholic boys, best friends and both sweet on her. Besides vying for Agnes, the two find themselves on opposite sides when Joe, a budding pacifist, joins the Catholic Worker, while Bernie will fight Hitler when the time comes. “Everyone knows the world is about to crack open,” Agnes thinks.

Like many baseball fans, Babe is convinced that she can alter events on the diamond by her powers of concentration. Yet she realizes she is losing control over Agnes, who displays an alarming independence of mind and spirit. Babe, however, still has something to teach her granddaughter. My baseball cap’s off to Valerie Sayers, with thanks for this absorbing, imaginative, and well-told tale.

This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 9, page 43).