Friday, April 29, 2011

"Driving Straight on Crooked Lines" is positively reviewed as an account of "pinball with my head and my heart as the bumpers"

The following review of my memoirs "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind" appeared, to my surprise on this morning. I am taking the liberty of reproducing it here because I sense, with a good measure of personal satisfaction, that the reviewer seems to "understand" the meaning and intent of what I tried to say. Perhaps this review may shed some light on the opinions I express here, especially for those who have never read my book. The reason I started this blog in the first place was to continue ruminating on the memories that the process of writing the book awakened.

Some of the "remarks" I've made over time are analyzed "out of context" with the overall thread of this blog. That's OK! The review that follows, I think, helps "center" my perspective. I thank the reviewer for taking the time to write such a well crafted review. Indeed I very much appreciate the 23 kind people, mostly strangers, who have taken the time to post reviews of my memoirs on Amazon.

Pinball with his head and his heart as the bumpers, April 29, 2011

This review is from: Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind (Paperback)

Once I picked up this book, I couldn't put it down and barely did until, with mixed feelings, I finished it. Other Catholics -- whether in or out of the Congregation in question -- may have similar mixed feelings but will find this book illuminating. Founders and CEOs of companies or organizations -- as well as their followers and employees -- will surely benefit from reading it.


Born amidst global conflict -- on the very day the Allies postponed the invasion of southern France until after that of Normandy -- and having traveled around the globe, apparently always conflicted, Mr Keogh recounts his experiences as an itinerant (up-and-coming, down-and-out, out-the-door and recovering) Irish-born priest in arguably the most controversial Catholic religious order in Church history, the Legionaries of Christ, which was born, also in 1944, in Mexico and experienced rapid-fire growth from the 1950s onward in Latin America, Europe, the United States, Africa and Asia.

Few human beings have shared Mr Keogh's experiences; nor can anyone dispute his experience. But all of us can relate with Mr Keogh on one or both of two dimensions: (1) navigating, building and surviving a "dysfunctional" yet fast-growing organization under the auspices of a charismatic but corrupt founder and leader; and (2) reconciling the tensions between one's head and heart, between one's apparent vocation in life and one's certain aspirations to live, always with a view to beginning again ... personal reinvention for the sake of survival and flourishing.

These two dimensions are cleverly paired in this memoir, with Mr Keogh's personal experiences -- mostly prosaic, some profound; alternately sad and funny; always engaging, insightful -- serving as a morality play that allegorically develops the situation of a man in a dysfunctional organization, within which the man's own struggles for sanity and sanctity mirror the deep challenges of the entity in which he finds himself but of which he is really not.

The Tension

The argument of the memoir's action shows palpably that organizations imprint themselves on their people -- whether regimes : citizens or companies : employees -- and organizations get their imprint from their founders. This observation is as old as Plato, with echoes of Homer, and pivotal in the western tradition of political philosophy (follow the thread on foundings and empires from Plutarch to Machiavelli) to say nothing of western history. It certainly applies to the organization in which Mr Keogh grew up as evidenced by the Vatican's judgment on its founder, Fr Marcial Maciel and on the Legion of Christ itself, in the 1 May 2010 communiqué, which was issued after this book was published.

The "Crooked Lines" of the title pertain to the stringent rules and entangling caprice, the routes and rigors, the twists and turns, and the many contradictions in Mr Keogh's over-long vocational journey ... the "Driving Straight" pertains to his willful determination, drive and directness throughout, as well as to his struggling from one beginning after another toward an ending that satisfied his very humane, all-too-human quest. The book is Augustinian in its exploration of reconciling memory, Thérèsean in its consideration of the challenges of religious life, Ignatian in its sustained examination of conscience. Yet, too, it is simply a very modern man's cathartic effort to make sense of his experience: the challenges of a man on a mission that's not unlike pinball with his head and his heart as the bumpers.

The Denouement

The first chapter's subtitle establishes the theme, "The Beginning of the End," that ensuing chapters develop. Mr Keogh weaves one beginning and ending after another, together, occasionally dropping or diverting from the threads but always moving, on a circuitous global journey (Ireland, Rome, Spain, Mexico, USA, Gabon), under the looming presence of Maciel, whom he came to know well but never quite well enough. Some of Mr Keogh's revelations about the founder of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi are shocking in retrospect, but fall far short of the full recitation of Maciel's derelictions and sins in the mentioned communiqué.

Still, these revelations and supporting observations by Mr Keogh suggest, as did his wife ultimately, the fire accounting for all the smoke. Mr Keogh's epilogue on leadership pulls no punches on his "narcissistic, charismatic leader" -- "I must face the fact that I formed my conscience, and spiritual life, according to the precepts of a hypocrite, liar, and perhaps a sociopath." -- even as Mr Keogh extols, with pride and gratitude, the good in the world achieved by what Maciel founded and led, of which he was a part but does not, in the end, seem to have been indelibly stamped by, contrary to his own assertion.

For what makes this book uplifting is how Mr Keogh -- who slowly pieced together Fr Maciel's motives by observing his behavior and came to a realization that the idealism, the spiritual value of the Legionaries of Christ were undermined in the process of institutionalization -- escaped that inevitable imprint. In counter-Hollywood fashion, Mr Keogh realized that it was his unsullied heart he should follow, not his tortured head. Yet the slow evolution of his reasoning about his feelings and aspirations, putting them in perspective of the reality he came to see and the faith he surely retained, is instructive for anyone who finds himself in a dead-end situation. The natural means he pursued, with a grasping after supernatural context, to come to terms with that reality and his faith make this book, which is otherwise light-hearted, full-bodied and often question-begging, compelling, worth a read and serious consideration.

1 comment:

Kevin Carty Fitzpatrick said...

Obviously a very observant reader. Those of us who went through what Mr Keogh did,didn`t come away unscaded,and will probably have to live the rest of our lives, learning to "drive straight on crooked lines".