More Joy in Heaven
is a 1937 work of literary fiction by Canadian author Morley Callaghan. It tells the story of an ex-con and his struggle to rejoin society after a decade in prison. The title is derived from a Bible verse, Luke 15:7: “...there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent.” Callaghan based his protagonist on a real person: Norman Ryan, who committed multiple robberies in Canada and the United States. Once jailed, he became a model prisoner and later a figurehead for the Canadian prison reform movement. He was released after ten years in prison to a celebrated social position in Toronto, but after a few months, his popularity faded, and he went back to his criminal habits. A year after his release, Ryan was shot and killed in the middle of a robbery attempt.
The novel opens with protagonist Kip Caley, a robber sentenced to a long prison term. In prison, however, he realizes there is another way to live. Father Butler, a priest who serves the prison, takes Kip under his wing and tries to show him how to live a moral life without resorting to crime to get by. Kip, like his real-life counterpart, becomes a model prisoner dedicated to helping others. He develops an excellent reputation, to the point that Senator Maclean intervenes to make sure Kip is granted parole. Maclean, however, does not help Kip simply out of the goodness of his own soul: he is given to grand, PR-friendly gestures and “irresponsible generosity.”
Kip is released at Christmastime, after 10 years behind bars. He soon finds that life isn’t so easy on the outside. Senator MacLean finds Kip a job as a greeter at the Coronet Hotel, but the position is filled with temptation. Kip is now too close to his old vices: drinking, gambling, and prostitution. At the same time, he is suddenly thrust into the spotlight as the media hounds Kip and his family and writes front-page stories about him as a successfully reformed convict. The attention begins to go to Kip’s head.
Maclean’s spoiled adult daughter, Ellen, accompanies Kip on a trip to the carnival. There, she asks him rude questions about his past as a bank robber, questions Kip tries to shrug off. Kip, who is socially naive, assumes he is becoming a popular, well-liked man, rather than the brief novelty that society has made of him. He doesn’t seem to notice or understand when passersby at the carnival mutter negative comments about him and his criminal past.
Kip runs into a former inmate, Joe Foley, at the carnival. Foley assumes Kip has not really reformed but has only pretended to as a means of getting released early. He tries to lure Kip in with a new criminal scheme, seeing him as a lost sheep who needs a shepherd to be guided back to the criminal fold. Though he doesn’t understand that Kip’s reformation is genuine, he does see how Senator Maclean and people in the press are using Kip and tries to warn him.
Father Butler sees that Kip is at risk of becoming a criminal again, and offers him a job as a gardener, a quiet position that will take him away from the seedy activities that surround him in his current position. However, Kip refuses the offer. His head is too filled with the idea that he is now famous and important, and he thinks the job is too humble.
Soon, Kip starts dating a model named Julie. The two fall in love and seem to understand each other. At the same time, Kip starts dreaming bigger. He enjoys the attention of his job at the hotel, but in prison, he had found meaningful work in mediating between guards and prisoners. He asks Senator Maclean to help him get a job on the parole board so he can help other reformed prisoners, but the senator refuses. Kip goes to Judge Ford, who had opposed his release from prison, and the judge denies him as well, saying he is too dangerous to serve. Judge Ford tries to tell Kip that Senator Mclean and Mr. Jenkins, Kip’s boss at the hotel, are both using him for publicity and don’t really care about him. Kip doesn’t heed the warning.
After he fails to get the job he really wants, Kip is frustrated. He turns to Foley and another released inmate, Ike Kermann, who use the opportunity to manipulate him back towards crime, trying to make him feel like he fits in better in their world than living a law-abiding life.
Soon, Kip breaks the law, but only out of sympathy: he helps an injured robber lay low and escape the police, giving him shelter for the night. Later, he finds Father Butler and confesses his guilt.
Jenkins approaches Kip with a new idea: he wants Kip to become a wrestler to attract more notoriety. Kip rejects the idea, starting to realize that Jenkins, Maclean, and society at large don’t care about his wants or desires. He turns to Julie once again for comfort, at a loss for how to move forward with his life.
At a low point, he is ripe for Foley and Kermann’s schemes. They rope him into a scheme to rob a bank with them. Julie overhears the men talking. She tries to confront Kip, but he won’t listen. Out of options, Julie turns to Father Butler, telling him of the plan. Father Butler, in turn, informs the police. Then, Julie goes back to Kip and tells him the police know what he and his so-called friends are planning.
The knowledge brings Kip to a breaking point. He is in an ugly place emotionally: his mother has just died, and he does not know how to express his grief. In the midst of a breakdown, he heads out to meet up with Foley and Kermann for the robbery anyway. The police are ready for them. One cop shoots Foley. In a whirl of misplaced grief and rage, Kip takes a gun and fires back, shooting not just at the police officer but at everything he symbolizes, the society that has built Kip up and then rejected him.
Kip comes to his senses and flees the scene, returning to Julie’s apartment. The police are in pursuit and actively shooting at him. Julie tells them to stop, but they don’t hear her. Then, Julie attempts to shield Kip with her body—and a bullet hits her.
A horrified Kip holds the dying Julie in his arms. They confess the depth of their feelings for each other, and Kip tells her that she was the only one who really cared about him. Julie dies.
Kip, too, has sustained injuries in the shootout, and he is brought to the hospital to heal before he is charged and sent back to prison for his crimes. But Kip’s wounds are serious, and he dies in the hospital a free man.
A New York Times
review praised the book’s “sensitive and understanding view of life,” though it notes that the dialogue between Kip and Julie is not always believable. Callaghan was a noted writer of his day, once part of the circle of ex-pats in Paris that included Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and others. His other works include The Loved and the Lost
and A Fine and Private Place
. In 1960, Callaghan was awarded the Royal Society of Canada’s Lorne Pierce Medal for merit in literature.