Thursday, December 14

Sins of the Fathers


by Chris Lynch
HarperTeen 2006

Drew, Hector and Skitz are an inseparable trio who have known each other since they first started attending Catholic school. They're the kind of misfits who are drawn together: Hector the Good with anger management issues, Skitz the Human Dog lacking the ability to feel physical pain, and Drew the Glue that holds them together, their voice of reason, their collective conscious, and the story's narrator.

Entering their teens the boys are starting to skew off track. Hector's fits of rage and violence seem to grow proportionately with his rise as Alter Boy of the Year. Skitz seems to recognize that everyone considers him a lost cause so the increase in his irrational anti-social behavior goes practically unnoticed. At first blush Drew appears the most normal, but it's clear that the more he sees happening around him the more drawn he is toward repressing his own anger and disapproval. And all three of think nothing of sneaking out of their houses for a late-night meet up to down handfuls of St. Joseph's children's aspirin and RC cola, presumable for caffeine jolt.

The arrival of a street priest, a Jesuit nicknamed Father Mularky, jolts the boys out of their complacency as he appears to be unlike the interchangeable roster of priests they have seen over the years. He looks like a biker and is still hooked on 70's rock and roll -- on vinyl if you please -- and prefers things a little more worldly (like drinking beer) than the church might otherwise like. Monsignor Blarney runs the show with an iron fist so it's no surprise when tensions lead to a showdown between the two.

Everything comes to a head when Hector becomes ill and is hospitalized. Suffering from a stomach ulcer the boys think it's related to their aspirin and cola habits while the church spins it as the result of Hector's father ditching his family. The truth is more sinister as just below the surface of the narrative, hinted at but never said directly, Hector appears to be a victim of sexual abuse by one of the priests. Skitz has jumped from aspirin munching to glue sniffing and Drew is finally forced to take a stand against the priests, to pull his boys together and remain united and strong.

Lynch tells a story that seems familiar all the way through -- familiar characters, familiar scenes of weak families and weaker priests, familiar hang-outs and familiar conversations -- yet it all fits together in a way that still feels like you're reading about it for the first time. Actually, as I was reading I got the sense that Lynch was filling in the details left out of the news accounts, the sort of details investigative reporters would have included or reconstructed when writing up stories for Rolling Stone back when Rolling Stone was a relevant source of cultural reportage. There's no glorifying or demonizing of any character within the narrative beyond the thoughts and comments of those involved.

Except for the less-than-subtle title, of course.

The absence of fathers, or decent father-figure replacements, is the real indictment here and it's difficult to say whether or not Drew and his boys can actually break the cycle of disfunction that characterizes all their interactions. It would be nice to think that once the boys take their stand that they grow stronger, but the confrontation takes place literally on the last page and it's just as easy to imagine that they form one of those tight-knit units that defines their strength by the secrets that bond them.

One more chapter would have done it, one more chapter to let us know that the boys weren't just circling the wagons. Or would that have been providing the reader with too much hope?
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