‘Pew’ by Catherine Lacey – A Modern-Day Fable


‘Pew’ by Catherine Lacey    (2020) – 207 pages

I suppose the first thing they tell you in Fiction 101 is to have a well-defined main character to drive your story or novel and to give that main character human emotions with which the readers can empathize and identify. However in Catherine Lacey’s new novel ‘Pew’, the main character narrator Pew is not at all well-defined. We don’t find out if the main character, Pew, is male or female, black or white or something else. Pew is homeless and sometimes sleeps overnight in churches which have accidentally or intentionally left one of their many doors open. For all intents and purposes, Pew is amorphous and talks barely at all.

But that is what significant novelists do, break the rules. Here Catherine Lacey has broken the rules to stimulate and challenge herself to come up with something new and different.

Steven and Hilda and their boys find him/her sleeping in their regular pew at church on Sunday morning. They decide to take him/her into their home and to call him Pew.

Pew is a blank slate. What we do find out in the novel is how the various townspeople react to his/her presence. Here is the son Jack:

We don’t even know if you’re a girl or a boy or where you come from or nothing and you’re sleeping in my bed. In my bed. It’s disgusting. You ought to go back where you came from, go back there and leave us alone.”

Some of the people Pew meets or is introduced to treat him much nicer than Jack at least on the surface. Steve and Hilda have Pew visit with church people or psychiatric or psychological staff. Pew sits through all these evaluations by the so-called experts.

There are a few people who relate to him/her much better than others. These people tend to be the ones who realize that they don’t have all the answers either. The people who are on Pew’s wavelength are those that have found out that life is a struggle for everyone. Pew almost wants to talk to these few people. One of these less judgmental people tells Pew:

I felt so sure then – of course I was younger. It’s easier to be certain of things then – and the older you get, the more you see that certainty depends on one blindness or another.”

The big event each year in this southern town is the Forgiveness Festival. This is when the townspeople let themselves off the hook for each other’s sins. Is it truly a Forgiveness Festival or is it a Forgetfulness Festival?

I felt that given the build-up and all the talk of the Forgiveness Festival, it could have been presented more dramatically than it was. My other complaint is that the blank-slate narrator Pew comes across as a bit sad and austere, perhaps because Pew says so little. I would have made him/her a bit more upbeat and playful, but then Pew probably would not have been a blank slate.

This is the second work of fiction by Catherine Lacey which I have read, and I still feel very strongly that she is one of the most significant fiction writers out there today because she is not afraid to deal uniquely with the larger matters. I will continue to read her work.


Grade:   A-





3 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds excellent.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. What an intriguing premise for a book… I’ll look out for this one.

    Liked by 1 person


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