The Morning Watch, more of a novella than a novel, was first published in 1951 and is a precursor to Agee's more mature and accomplished, though posthumous, A Death in the Family (one of the finest novels I've read).
Drawing upon his experiences as a boy attending the Saint Andrews School for Mountain Boys, run by Episcopal monks, The Morning Watch takes place over the course of about three hours, as Richard and his fellow students are awoken in the very early hours of Good Friday to pray at the chapel alter. Similar to novelist Nicholson Baker's later experiments in relating minute amounts of time, every minute of the time spent in chapel as experienced by Richard is described. A sensitive and earnest soul, twelve-year old Richard is torn between a passion for holiness and the contradictory self-centeredness he believes extreme piety must require. The characters and situations have all the subtle, carefully observed frailty and flawed humanity of a Rembrandt sketch.
A second section involves a delinquent walk to a lake. Here the symbolism employed uncharacteristically becomes somewhat heavy-handed, though no less compelling.
Agee's writing is as poetic and poignant as always. The length and reach of The Morning Watch is modest, though, and probably of most interest to those who have read Agee's more important work, particularly A Death in the Family.