Thursday, March 20, 2014

Library Shelf: 13:24

13:24  by M. Dolon Hickmon

This fast-paced novel is not just gritty; it is undeniably brutal. It is riddled with unpleasant characters doing offensive things, though which actions are most offensive will depend upon the reader's judgement. The writing, while rich in adjectives, is uneven. In short, this is not the sort of fiction I usually read.

And yet, the vivid story sucked me in from the very first chapter. Even though I had to put it down repeatedly as other situations demanded my emotional energy, the story, with all its dramatic turns and twisting threads, pulled me back again and again. In the end, I found it surprisingly cathartic and empowering.

As Anne Lamott explains, "Most human beings are dedicated to keeping that one door shut. But the writer's job is to see what's behind it, to see the unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words". Hickmon does exactly that. He opens the door on child abuse masquerading as acceptable (even Christian) discipline. And he turns the unspeakable into words.

The result is a grotesquely powerful tale that deserves to be read and spread like wildfire, as long as preachers still instruct god-fearing Americans on how to inflict pain on small children to the glory of God. Most such children--though not all--survive physically, but we live with psychological scars and emotional limps. This thriller uses bold colors and slashing strokes to paint that pain as an image that cannot be ignored.

Hickmon, writing out of his own experience and research, shines a rare light on the cognitive dissonance experienced by children who are beaten to make them good. Through fiction that could just as easily be contemporary headlines, he explores spanking as child discipline, spanking as sexual expression, and the appalling intersection of the two. He examines the ripple effects that the toleration of familial violence has on the larger community. He describes other forms of child abuse, both legal and illegal. My favorite chapter was in the middle of the book, when a character describes what it is like to live with PTSD as a result of his religiously abusive childhood. In that scene, which I reread multiple times, and one childhood flashback scene, I felt the author was telling my story, too.

I am a harsh literary critic, so I will be honest. There were verbs in 13:24 that I found jarring, phrases that felt unnatural. Too much of the dialogue was carried out in complete sentences. The vocabulary occasionally felt incongruous with the setting. Most of the time though, I was so mesmerized by each unfolding scene that I didn't mind a few bumps along the way. When I reached the last page and reflected on the tale as a whole, its imperfections faded in significance as I thought of others who would appreciate and relate to the story, others whose hearts also received the 13:24 brand, others who may feel less alone after reading Hickmon's words about the unspeakable.

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
Proverbs 13:24

*If psychological thrillers about murder, sexualized abuse, and Gothic metal aren't your cup of tea, you may still want to read M. Dolon Hickmon's thoughts on Proverbs, faith, and child discipline here

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