In the summer of 2041, 71-year-old Diane O’Connor invites Friar Antonio Ortiz to her home in Queens. The reason is nothing short of mysterious: she has a request for him, which entails giving him a letter and a recording that was made right after the tragedy of September 11, 2001.
Friar Antonio is the friend of Diane’s son, Peter, whom she believes to be destined to become the first American Pope. Diane’s request is for Antonio to keep the two items until Peter is ready to accept his Papacy.
From Diane and Antonio’s conversation while he’s at her home, a mystery is slowly unfolded — though not completely, for it isn’t until decades later when Antonio gives the letter and recording to Peter that everything is revealed, to the shock of not only these two characters but also the reader.
Through Diane’s account, diary entries, the letter, and the recording, the reader is taken back in time to when Diane’s firefighter husband and Peter’s father, Billy, died during 9/11.
Merlino is a talented writer and some segments of the book are written in a truly lyrical, insightful way. It’s clear the author put a lot of time and craft in her creation, which I read took her six years to research and write.
Diane and Friar Antonio are both compelling characters, and I was engrossed by their conversations as the mystery was slowly revealed through some very interesting dialogue. The chapters move at a steady pace that well suits this type of novel where theme and characterization have a heavier hand than plot.
In short, this was an unusual, out-of-the-ordinary read that I enjoyed. The reason I’m giving this review 4 stars instead of 5 is that the ending, while surprising and unexpected, didn’t resonate with me.