Pew, Catherine Lacey
A curious and engaging tale and a writer I’ll seek out more from.
A child is found sleeping beneath a church pew, and the churchgoers, being good people, take the child in to care for it. But when the child won’t speak or reveal its sex, they are set on a path to find out these things, for how else can they reasonably host the child, safely and properly? For starters, the first family to take ‘Pew’ in has children too, both girls and boys - however could they host Pew without knowing his or her sex?
But Pew refuses definition, and the community’s efforts to pigeonhole them reveal its own bigotry and weaknesses. They are also busy preparing for a special annual festival, which sounds black magic-esque and terrifying. Some awful things will happen, we are led to understand, but they are necessary in order for the community to continue in its pure, good and godly manner for the rest of the year.
The build up to this is thriller-tense and rotten with foreboding; Catherine Lacey does such a lot with so few words. I find myself aching like the parishioners to know who Pew is and their backstory. I’m willing the doctor to force Pew to reveal whether they’re a girl or a boy, as if that would tell us anything further about where they’re from and what they need, then scolding myself for feeling such an urge. When writers do this skilfully, some say it is manipulative, but I’m in awe of Lacey’s great skill in revealing us to ourselves as carefully as she exposes the church community. An excellent read for any kind of reader.