The Ninth Hour is an utterly charming novel about faith, dissent, good works and love. The novel begins when Jim decides to take his own life by releasing gas into his lungs, leaving pregnant Annie on her own to make her way with her not yet born daughter. It is Annie’s good fortune (if there is such a thing as good fortune in these circumstances), that Sister St. Savior, on her way back to the convent after an “afternoon in the vestibule of the Woolworth’s at Borough Hall, her alms basket in her lap”, walked by the Brooklyn tenement “with the terrible scent of doused fire on the winter air.”
“It was Sister St. Savior’s vocation to enter the homes of strangers, mostly the sick and the elderly, to breeze into their apartments and to sail comfortably through their rooms…” With the help of Sister St. Savior and her convent, Annie is able to go on with her life.
Sister St. Savior arranges for Annie to work in the laundry at the Little Nursing Sisters convent for $18 a week, breakfast and lunch. She brings her daughter Sallie with her and Sallie grows up in the convent. Annie befriends young Sister Jeanne, to whom she remains close throughout her life, and develops relationships with Sister Illuminata (master of the laundry) and Sister Lucy (gruff do gooder). The nuns also introduce Annie to Elizabeth Tierney, mother to a gaggle of children, who becomes her closest friend. Through the convent Annie meets Mr. Costello, the milkman, whose invalid wife is in the constant care of the nuns.
Sallie, Annie’s daughter, at some point in young adulthood decides to work with the nuns in caring for the sick. She spends time with Sister Lucy going to various households and decides to become a nun. She is assigned to a nursing convent in Chicago. On the overnight train to Chicago, Sallie encounters a crass woman, a grifter and a child abusing poor mother and her abused child. The experience causes her to realize that she lacks the empathy to care for the less fortunate and upon arriving in Chicago she buys a one way train ticket and immediately returns home.
Sallie marries Patrick Tierney and the reader learns the story of Red Whelan, who served as Grandfather Tierney’s “substitute” in the war, and old aunt Rose, whose vocation it was to take care of Red and who is still living at the time of the tale.
The novel tells of each of the nun’s pasts and their struggles, the importance of love and family, and the begrudging mutual need of the wealthy and the poor. “Love’s a tonic, not a cure.”
The story is told by Annie’s grandchildren, piecing together their past. Sister Jeanne, who carries a secret, helps Sallie’s children put together their history and understand their parents. As he was dying, their father reminded them of his love for Sallie, their “mother, who thought to be a nun, but then thought better of it…A fatherless girl, a convent child in white wool. The girl he always knew he would marry.”
This is a wonderful novel, filled with real human characters, interesting storylines and great writing. Go and reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11263313__Sthe%20ninth%20hour__P0%2C4__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold or in electronic version by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11269850__Sthe%20ninth%20hour__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold