Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Can you forgive?

Hold Me Now, by Stephen Gauer

What if something so terrible happened to your loved one that you couldn’t possibly forgive the guilty party?  This is what happens to Paul Brenner, in Hold Me Now.  He goes out with Daniel, his adult son, for dinner one night, and finds out that his son has been murdered the next. 
Brenner is a middle aged lawyer who prides himself on being pragmatic, so pragmatic that he can’t believe in anything that can’t be empirically proven, such as believing in God.  He sees the act of forgiveness as an arcane and overly abstract concept.  He tells himself that if he can’t convince himself to believe in sin, he can’t possibly believe in forgiveness either.  With this rational approach, he attempts to cope with his son’s death, caused by a random, violent and stupid act. 

Brenner may not have been managing his life successfully before the murder, but after it, he loses much of what he had.  His drinking which was out of control before becomes dangerously risky.  This is a complex novel, with Brenner being an unsympathetic protagonist.  Even while his son is alive, this dad is aloof, condescending, and controlling  He makes it clear to Daniel that he doesn’t quite trust him to manage his own life, or to be self disciplined.  Meanwhile, he promises himself that he’ll have only two beers, but he orders a third, and then a fourth, all within the space of one hour.  He’s a little relieved their dinner is over, so he can leave to have sex with a woman whom he keeps at an emotional distance. 
His law business in real estate is straightforward and lucrative, and he’s glad he doesn’t work with criminals or families, because not only would those types of law be less profitable, but they would also be more emotionally messy.  As far as he’s concerned, life is okay, up till he gets the phone call telling him about his son.

Brenner doesn’t have much of a support system in place, because he’d always found it more practical to keep people at a distance.  Although his ex-wife and her new husband need his support, he disdains any friendship with them because the new husband is religious, and Brenner feels that’s enough reason to be downright hostile to him.  Of course there must be some lingering jealousy, but he doesn’t admit to that. 

Even though Brenner is an unlikable character, he is in so much pain that he can be forgiven, even if he can’t forgive.  To make his son’s murder even harder to bear, is Brenner’s horrifying realization that his son had been running naked in Stanley Park, near downtown Vancouver, in the middle of the night.  Daniel is gay and is frequenting an area of the park used by gays for casual sex.  Drunk highschool boys entertain themselves by heading to the park with baseball bats and golf clubs, and Daniel immediately becomes their victim.  

Although Brenner is confounded by the degree to which his son put himself at risk, Brenner also lives dangerously.  Among other risky behaviors, he tells himself he can drink one bottle of wine every evening, but then goes on to drink considerably more, and then thinks nothing of driving.  He loses his clients, not necessarily because his grieving takes away his focus, but because the alcohol is unravelling him. 

This isn’t a pleasant read.  It’s full of pain and trauma.  Brenner tells himself over and over that forgiveness is not a factor, especially as he lurks near the home of the teenage boy who led the brutal assault on his son.  He spies on the boy, his mother and father, the prison the boy is eventually sent to, and then continues to spy on the parents’ home, all in hoping to somehow come to grips with what’s happened. 

 If you’re looking for some literature therapy around the concept of forgiveness, this book could have some thought provoking ideas for you.

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