“Book Review: St. Michael’s Poker & Drinking Club”
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
Religious satire transforms into a thought-provoking study on personal growth in St. Michael’s Poker & Drinking Club
In this literary novel by Ned Randle, Roman Catholic priest Father Thomas Abernathy thumbs through a list of all the pastors of Belle City. He’s looking to gather a selective group of clergymen from all sorts of denominations for “fun and fellowship:” in other words, a poker and drinking club. The novel places this group of religious leaders in a room together, gets them drunk and competitive, to offer a special kind of commentary on fellowship and growth.
Pastor Brian Metzger, a Methodist, makes Father Tom’s list for his reputation of being a man about town. Father Tom decides to invite Billy Crump, too, an evangelical starting his own nondenominational church, in hopes of entertainment. Lutheran Theo Swindberg just barely gets a check; although known to be cold and standoffish, this Lutheran makes the cut because there’s a chance that he just might be open to a drink or two.
This introduction to the men who comprise the St. Michael Poker & Drinking Club is brief but straightforward, and Randle gives us a vivid idea of how the characters will play into these roles which Father Tom assigns in half jest, half sincerity. Sure, Father condemns any stark belief in these labels, but he does understand the extent to which they are truthful. Father Tom acts as the head of the club and is well respected by the men and of course, the whole town. He is a Roman Catholic, a successor to St. Peter (whom Jesus himself appointed as the first head of his church!), so naturally, he takes the lead.
And it’s up to us to watch closely, to encounter the change or conflict or any other hijinks this group of drink-swilling believers is about to get into.
First, I’ve got to applaud Ned Randle on his ability to create vivid characters who are clever and fascinating to watch on the page. Each of the clergymen’s lives are just specific enough to convince us of their reality, while their unique personalities offer us the opportunity to situate them as symbols of their chosen religion. It’s a great way to take a look at these religions separately, to brainstorm in which ways they can coexist and clash.
It is disappointing, though, that such an intriguing premise can be drowned out by the characters’ apparent resolve to fulfill Father Tom’s wants and needs. They may come across as full and interesting characters, but their own desires fade in comparison to Father Tom’s. Because of this, Randle loses the opportunity to showcase their evolving personalities and beliefs. The story is screaming for them to clash—and I am too—but tensions at the poker table and the outside world only bubble a bit.
The men study each other during their poker games which allow us to see them from all angles of the table. But instead of creating a satire of religion in the United States, which we are set up to receive, Randle more so offers us a story about a man finding friendship out of loneliness. I oftentimes wished that their poker nights were more risqué, their conflicts more outrageous, but the love they unexpectedly find for each other often outweighs the (evil) wish that they were more unbending in their own motives.
As a whole, I really enjoyed St. Michael’s Poker & Drinking Club. It does a great job of depicting a small passionate town amidst swirls of mundanity, and we’ve got a really strong personal conflict in Father Tom’s evolution in the face of different beliefs.
If you’re looking for a smart novel that tackles themes of religion and togetherness despite differences, you’ll have a great time venturing through the journey within St. Michael Poker & Drinking Club.
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Genre: Literary Fiction
Print Length: 237 pages
Thank you for reading “Book Review: St. Michael’s Poker & Drinking Club” by Madeline Barbush! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.