Faith learned young has lingering hold on emerging writer

Novelist Julie Courtney Sullivan describes herself as a bit of an outlier in a traditional Irish Catholic family from Massachusetts.

Professionally known as "J. Courtney Sullivan," the under-40 writer is author of five generally well-received novels that some reviewers have praised for their freshness, character development and poignancy to the times.

Her 2020 book, "Friends and Strangers," focuses on themes of self-deception, insincere friendships and the pernicious influence of "white privilege" in contemporary affairs.

However, it is three of her four earlier novels that reflect the strong Catholic influence in Sullivan's fiction.

The 2009 work "Commencement," outlines the lives and careers of four Smith College graduates: April, Sally, Bree and Celia. As the only Catholic character among the foursome, Celia is clearly drawn from Sullivan's experience growing up at St. Agatha Parish in Milton, Massachusetts.

Like Celia, Sullivan graduated with a degree in English literature from the notoriously liberal all-women's school. The experience of a none-too-committed Catholic female graduating from a school noted for its secular feminism bent shines through in the early stages of Celia's career.

Sullivan's next two faith-influenced books, "Maine" (2011) and "Saints for All Occasions" (2017) have an unmistakable Catholic flavor, especially as tempered by the Irish American experience.