July 20, 1981 12:00 PM

by Tom McDonough

McDonough, cinematographer of the Oscar-winning documentary Best Boy, zooms in perceptively in this first novel. Father Jack Sullivan and Sister Marian have more in common than their irreverent sixth-grade students at a Brooklyn parochial school. Sullivan, who likes his whiskey before his transubstantiation, and Marian, a Woolworth shoplifter who reads Burpee seed catalogs with the attention she might reserve for more devout literature, are having an affair. A stuttering student has “a case of nun worship so severe there is nothing funny about it.” Maybe not, but there’s a lot funny about the idiosyncratic liberals who staff the school. Sister Superior, for example, pumps her fist to make a tattoo of a heart pound convincingly on her forearm. There’s poignancy too, etched with tight prose that dips into free association and hints of rebellion and fragility. McDonough, himself a Catholic, offers some sacrilegious yet sensitive revelations about the faith in most eloquent fashion. (Viking, $10.95)

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