This biography examines the life and work, of the orthodox Catholic, political radical, and rebel who courted controversy and attracted three generations of admirers for her work against the draft and the war in Vietnam, capitalism, and U.S. foreign policy.
A good biography holds your attention; a great one transcends its subject and sheds light on the myriad forces bearing down on an individual at a particular point in time ... John Loughery and Blythe Randolph’s Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century belongs, luminously, to the second ... compelling ... John Loughery and Blythe Randolph veer off the map, sometimes with an excess of abandon, in trying to understand the complexities of Dorothy Day ... The authors brilliantly try to make sense of Dorothy’s complicated worldview. They focus on her transition to Catholicism and the questions she must have been forced to ask herself ... Loughery and Randolph do a strong job depicting the urgency and intensity of her thinking, but they also reveal the blind spots that prevented her from seeing her own serious shortcomings, particularly regarding her daughter Tamar, whom she rarely saw and of whom she was extremely critical ... Loughery and Randolph go beyond traditional biography to give us not a singular, cohesive portrait of Dorothy Day but several overlapping and mutually inconsistent ones.
The authors render their subject in precise and meticulous detail, generating a vivid account of her political and religious development. They also include perceptive portraits of her colleagues, lovers and friends ... Day, they suggest....wanted to experience the entire Catholic package, warts and all. But while reading their respectful account, I began to wonder if Day’s religious conservatism might also, perhaps unconsciously, have been politically subversive ... In her wholehearted embrace of the Catholic faith, was Day also attempting an 'othering,' tacitly and subversively suggesting that there were different ways of being a loyal citizen and devout Christian—that the radicalism of a St. Francis, indeed, of Jesus himself, spoke imperatively to the American dilemma?
Politics change like the weather, and this era of falling atmospheric pressure is nicely captured in Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century ... In the early years of the Catholic Worker Movement, Day joked that she wrote down how much money came in and how much money went out but never reconciled the two columns—which is more or less how she lived her life. Unfortunately, it also more or less describes Loughery and Randolph’s biography: a comprehensive, chronological account that never arrives at a meaningful summation of the life it chronicles. It doesn’t go much beyond what has been written before[.]