I read Chasing Francis, by Ian Cron, last year. It had been on my wish list for a while, and I’d heard many good things. I can’t argue with the content, as it rejuvenated the teachings and life of St. Francis of Assisi for modern eyes. But the content was built into the format of a fictional narrative, allowing us to peer over the shoulder of a contemporary central character who is rescued from the doldrums of his life by getting acquainted with Francis and his work. This format where a fictional narrative is developed to teach particular content doesn’t work, at least not for me. The characters are too flat as they are stuck in a pre-determined story, and flat characters lead to a narrative that rings more hollow than true.
This, however, isn’t a review of Chasing Francis, but of Cron’s second book, Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me. And for the same reasons that Chasing Francis just okay, J,F,CIA was great. When you read the grand proclamation of such a title, if you have a microliter of cynicism in your pinky toe crease, you will wonder if a book can live up to such a title. It does.
It is a memoir, and particularly a reflection on Cron’s father, who really was in the CIA. (To set the record straight, Jesus was not in the CIA, according to Cron or the most liberal of Jesus scholars.) While Chasing Francis is a narrative intended to teach, JFCIAMe is not. But it does teach in a way that stirs the soul rather than informs the mind. The weight of a personal story like Cron’s rings, no, resounds true. His open, and sometimes even awkward, sharing of the mess of his life invites me to lay claim to my own mess and see that there is good to be found in it.
I have a growing enthusiasm for memoir, and J, F, CIA represents everything I like about the genre.