Vestments, the first novel by John Reimringer, is in part a love letter to the city of St. Paul. I live in the Twin Cities metro area and did live in St. Paul for a while and visit it as often as I can, and it was a joy to read the detailed descriptions of the city. I would hope that for someone not from here, it would be equally enjoyable, although I wonder if sometimes it would read like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with too many street names, too much "then he went to this street and turned on that street, then turned again on this street".
Vestments is the story of Jimmy Dressler, born to a dysfunctional Irish-Catholic St. Paul family who eventually grows up to become a priest himself in the 1990s. The plot is both a coming-of-age story as well as a look at faith, specifically the Catholic faith, and what life is like for late-20th-century priests in small, rural parishes.
This is a book I read for book club, and I must say that if it wasn't for book club, I wouldn't have finished it, but I'm glad I did. Structurally I have some issues with the book. More than half of the book is told in flashback, which to me is too much. If that much past needs to be explored, it would be better to just start in the past and move forward, at least for this book. I found myself impatient and sighing a lot when it was clear that once again, we were not in the current timeframe. When the backstory finally caught up to the present story, I enjoyed the book much more.
There's also a bit of the cliche about the dysfunctional family, yet Reimringer delineates his characters so thoroughly that, even if they're not likable, the reader still cares about them and what happens to them.
Finally, I'm not sure why this book is set (when not in flashback) in the 1990s. The only reason I know the time period is due to a few references to Bill Clinton being in office. Other than that, I'm puzzled. If there's supposed to be some noticeable difference in the pre-9/11 age, it's not clear. If something has changed in the priesthood since then (not being Catholic or knowing any priests, I have no idea); there are several references to child abuse scandals, so that's not a new topic.
Overall, glad I did read to the end, loved the characters, thought much of the writing was good, and will definitely read the next book Reimringer writes.