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English Professor Challenges Literary Norms in New Catholic Novel

Part detective novel, part satire, Lee Oser's "Oregon Confetti" hopes to reintroduce the Catholic novel to contemporary audiences
April 19th, 2018 by 
Lee Oser, professor of English, presents his newest novel

“You write about what you know,” says Lee Oser, professor of English, about writing his newest novel, “Oregon Confetti” (Wiseblood Books, 2017). As a former musician in Portland, a professor of English and a committed Roman Catholic, Oser combines his knowledge of the Portland art scene, literary techniques and Catholic doctrine to reintroduce the Catholic novel to contemporary audiences.

“Oregon Confetti” challenges conceptions of success and happiness as “semi-honest” main character Devin Adams is confronted by his friend John Sun, a renowned artist, bearing a mysterious baby. The two embark on a life-or-death adventure to reveal the meaning of life, love and friendship in absurd and unexpected ways.

Making use of a combination of literary genres, “Oregon Confetti” is considered a satire, a detective novel and a Catholic novel simultaneously. The novel’s Catholic presence is often subtle and other times overt, as Oser incorporates a wise Jesuit professor who offers spiritual advice to the book’s protagonist throughout his journey — a nod to Oser’s connection with Jesuit institutions. He includes Catholic influences in the novel while, he says, “not sticking so neatly to clearly distinguished genres of writing.”

“I want to be held to the same standard from both Catholic and non-Catholic points of view,” he adds.

R. Clifton Spargo, author of “Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald,” calls the book “a post-secular fable for people who don’t want to be cynics any longer. In witty, energetic prose, Oser takes on easy American cultural pieties and pushes his characters (despite themselves) to believe in something ultimate that can’t be ironized out of existence.”

“What we’re talking about here is human dignity,” Oser explains in an interview with Crisis Magazine, “and that’s a Catholic conversation. I like it, I feel at home in it.”

“Oregon Confetti” has received acclaim from top Catholic literary outlets, including Crisis Magazine and Commonweal Magazine, which featured “Oregon Confetti” on their “Top Books of 2017.”

“Antic, absurdist, comic, and Catholic, this ribald novel grows out of the Evelyn Waugh and John Kennedy Toole tradition,” writes Commonweal Magazine. “But I also heard echoes of Auden. Like him, Oser finds theology in two unlikely genres: the picaresque and the detective novel.”

“Oregon Confetti” is Oser’s third novel. Other works include novels “The Oracles Fell Silent” and “Out of What Chaos” and three works of literary criticism.

Written by Maeve Sweeney ’18 for the Spring 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

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