Book Review: Fearless
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
A Chicago nun comes out swinging in this strong-willed feminist novel
With Fearless, author Paula Dáil tells the story of a nun who is out of the ordinary to say the least. As she fights for the rights of Irish Catholic women, she steps on a few toes within the patriarchy, some by coincidence and some with a raging intention that only a scorned woman can deliver. She is, in short, an inspiring feminist and is reason enough to pick up a copy of Fearless.
There are many things that women will do when up against a wall, but in a small Irish community in 1950s Chicago, becoming a nun is the most popular. That is the case for Maggie Corrigan, who grew up as the oldest in a household of 7 children.
After her mother died in childbirth, she became the main caregiver for all of them. With an alcoholic father and a sexually abusive brother, Maggie is willing to escape the troubling cycle anyway she can.
While it may seem like taking these vows would silence Maggie forever, it ends up doing quite the opposite. Instead, she uses it as a tool to gain notoriety in her position as a women’s rights advocate and it shakes up the entire Irish Catholic community.
Fearless explores the intricacies of being an Irish Catholic woman in Chicago, a city that has welcomed tons of Irish immigrants, only to send them to work in some of the most gruesome factory jobs available. With little money to be made, little education, and very large families to take care of, the roles of women become one with minimal options.
Maggie Corrigan herself becomes a nun solely so she doesn’t have to become a battered wife and mother to a hoard of children she can’t take care of. In this expedition she succeeds in her own right, but she doesn’t intend to stand by while others are forced to meet a similar fate.
There are many plot points that will peak the interest of feminist readers, but one of the most intriguing is the dynamic between Maggie and her twin brother Tommy. Both decide to enter the church: Maggie as a nun and Tommy as a priest. They come to a head when Maggie finds out that Tommy gave a domestic abuse victim the advice to keep trying to work it out with her husband.
After meeting the woman, Maggie gives her the exact opposite advice. But the word of a priest holds a lot more weight. This, in addition to Tommy’s sexual abuse when they were children, puts him at the top of her list and drives her to dive even deeper into her work for women’s justice. Their roles as brother and sister in the church and in their secular lives shadows what is going on throughout their entire community when it comes to gender roles and who they benefit.
While religion is a focal point in this story, Dáil creates a story unlike anything you’d expect it to be. I’ll admit that I opened this book expecting a soft launch of a slightly feminist nun, which in itself would make some big waves, but Dáil creates something much bigger with Maggie Corrigan. She manages to humanize a woman that many people will stereotype and show how her religion can be a part of her identity without being her entire identity.
With a tough personality and tons of passion, Maggie Corrigan proves to be a main character that any lover of women’s fiction will be glad to discover. I know I was.
Publisher: Warren Publishing
Genre: Literary & General Fiction / Feminist
Print Length: 388 pages
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