Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: PIOUS

Title: Pious
Author: Kenn Bivins
Publisher: Invisible Ennk Press
Pages: 264
GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The book begins with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s quote: “No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

This is the premise of Pious, the story of Carpious Mightson who, years after being jailed for a crime, has now acquired a reputation for virtue in his suburban neighbourhood of Mechi Lane. Neighbours Lela and Drew Janson and widower Bernie Loomis look upon him with affection and respect.

When Ian Kaplan, a registered sex offender, moves into the neighbourhood, it sets the neighbourhood on edge. Carpious is unwilling to stand by Ian, lest his own past be dredged up. In an attempt to maintain his standing within the community, Carpious lies and denigrates Ian. Meanwhile, Alethea, Carpious’ ex-wife, shows up, demanding money, and reveals glimpses of his past, the secrets he hides, the lies that hold his current life together.

Carpious confesses part of his truth to Sydney, but not the whole, and all the time he withholds from Ian the forgiveness he seeks for himself.  That makes him flawed and very real. Bernie, on the other hand, shows himself to be a better human being and is willing to give Ian a chance.

But it isn’t Carpious alone who is wearing two faces. Drew has his own drama going on.

The book draws you into the lives of Carpious, Ian and Lela and Drew, with Sydney, Carpious’ girlfriend, and her son, Soloman, being secondary characters. Though a significant person in Carpious’ life, she is not important to the reader.

As the story went on, I liked Carpious less and less and began to feel slightly sympathetic toward Ian. The book told me a lot about how judgmental we tend to get, and how we are quick to pass sentence before we know the truth about other people’s lives. The chapters describing life in prison, both for Ian and for Carpious as also the ordeal undergone by both of them have been very sensitively and beautifully written.

Mechi Lane is untouched, but it is also insular in its refusal to accept that which does not fit its moral code. Just like we humans refuse to accept those who don’t fit our own moral codes.

The clashes between Carpious and Ian, both verbal and physical, are intense and project the scene in front of our eyes. During the most terrible of their confrontations, Ian is killed brutally by Carpious. This chapter ends with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Did I mention that I liked the manner in which Bivins makes use of quotes?

The omniscient narrator draws back once in a while to offer a philosophical critique on the nature of life and happiness. I liked these portions; they reminded me of Hawthorne. In the grand old tradition of Hawthorne, the protagonist also has a symbolic name.

The author does a good job of unfolding the drama in the characters’ lives, the simmering tensions in the Jansons’ marriage.

The proofing errors in the story are an annoyance. Also, the usage of the present tense is a mistake. Bivins is not able to demonstrate comfort with it. He keeps slipping between the usage of the present tense and the past tense, which he adopts when talking about the past. But the sentences are awkward, and the transition between present and past is not smooth.

The author should have hired the services of a good professional editor to correct the tense-related errors that litter the book. They tend to jar on one’s sensibilities and interfere with the reading.

Sometimes it seems as if the author is not one person but two. How could the man who wrote Time has been said to “heal all wounds,” but in reality, time doesn’t heal anything. It simply passes, while the pain, loss, or trauma and how a person deals with it determines whether he is healed or worse than before also be the same person who wrote Atop the table is a remote control; an empty ornate vase; and four magazines neatly fanned out to reveal the titles – Forbes, Newsweek, Fortune and Financial Times – the last of which is some religious or financial trade magazine. Religious? Really?

But there’s far more to like here than dislike. The cover image, designed by Bivins, shows how we alone have the power to set ourselves free by ridding ourselves of our resentments and by accepting the healing that comes from forgiveness.

The name of the book is an ironical statement, an indictment of Carpious, who was nicknamed Pious in prison, and the mask he wears on Mechi Lane. He is unwilling to give Ian the grace he himself has received in abundance.

Fittingly, the children, Haleigh Janson and Soloman show a greater willingness to accept, forgive and move on. The adults of Mechi Lane are unable to see the experience in isolation. Sydney is the only exception to this behaviour and she shows strength of character by helping Carpious to change. I was also pleased to know that she had moved on, and that Carpious accepted that truth calmly.

The drama afflicting Drew and Lela finds no resolution in this book. Perhaps in time it will. Or maybe it won’t but already in the book, there is a sense of acceptance and resignation on the part of Lela.

The character of Carpious is a study in psychology. It is a reminder that what we do to children, they will do to society.
I felt a sense of shock as the mask began to drop off Carpious, revealing the type of person he really was.

But there is hope for Carpious, as there once was for Ian, and it is no mere coincidence that the same ragged dogeared Bible with half cover missing that once healed Ian is now in the possession of Carpious.

In the end, Pious has a lesson that we would all do well to learn. I look forward to Bivins’ other book.

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