‘Monk’s Tale’ revisits presidential years
Caelin Miltko | Monday, September 19, 2016
Father Edward “Monk” Malloy released the final installment of his three-part memoir on Aug. 25 and a book launch at Notre Dame followed on Sept. 14. “Monk’s Tale: The Presidential Years” completes a project Malloy originally intended to be a single book, until he began writing his childhood years — the first book — and realized a single book would be far too long.
The final installment is 421 pages, but Malloy says, unlike the previous two, a good portion of the production of the third book was in editing. Originally, he wrote over 1000 pages, which have been saved in the Notre Dame Archives. In the writing process, he relied on newspaper articles, yearbooks, institutional records and the diaries he wrote as president.
“This book is much more about the institution and the people of this institution, so there are a lot of people wondering what … I sa[id] about them or about events. Obviously, you can have different interpretations of the same event through the same reality and so I’ve tried to be fair, but other people can give a different account of the same thing,” Malloy said.
There are 18 chapters in “The Presidential Years,” one for each year of Malloy’s presidency. Malloy describes his experience as president through a series of short segments, each with its own heading. Depending on the subject, the heading is accompanied by a few sentences or pages of explanation.
The story is told mostly in chronological order, with a few longer segments on people, projects and places Malloy felt required more detailed explanation. For example, Father Hesburgh, the Center for Social Concerns and Notre Dame’s involvement in Asia all receive their own detailed segments in various chapters that hop around chronologically, but provide a more complete picture of the idea in question.
“The first chapter is the longest one because it covers a typical year in my life that would apply to every year and then what I try to do in the other years is to focus on particular events that were of significance,” Malloy said.
At times, the book is a bit dry. There are long lists of people honored at each commencement ceremony, projects and committees Malloy worked on, and places and people he visited in his travels. Often, Malloy is more concerned with mentioning all the important people, places and events than providing detailed stories about his time as president — but this is perhaps partially a result of cutting more than half of what was originally written.
Especially toward the end of the book, Malloy’s stories become more detailed and personal. Chapter 15 “The Year of 9/11 and Its Aftermath (2001-02)” is particularly well-done. It is one of the longer chapters in the book, featuring a segment where Malloy describes Notre Dame’s reaction the day of 9/11 and another on his trip to Ground Zero and the tour he was given there.
These two portions are among the most moving of the book and include more detail than Malloy gives to most of the events he discusses — not as mere lists of people and places, but personal accounts that emphasize the emotional gravity of those days.
Chapter 15 also underlines a peculiar stylistic quirk in Malloy’s book. The use of segments, separated by headlines, eliminates the need for completely smooth transitions. As such, Chapter 15 devotes its first half to the tragedy of 9/11 and its second half to “The Search for a New Football Coach.”
In another book, written in another style, the transition would be too jarring to work. Even here, like many of the segments, there seems to be more to say about what came before, but the style of book allows time to move forward without the need to tie up everything that came before.
Occasionally, this gives Malloy license to mention potentially interesting events, without detailing them further. Early on in the book, he refers to the one significant disagreement he had with Hesburgh, but never delves further on the subject.
Overall, however, Malloy is candid in his discussion of events and people over his time as president: Chapter 11 includes a brief discussion of Malloy’s meeting with presidential nominee Donald Trump and Chapter 16 discusses frankly the events that ended with Father Tim Scully’s resignation as executive vice president.
As for Malloy’s plans now that his memoirs are finished, he says, “I have my next book in my head. I just haven’t written it yet.”