By Catherine Lacey
A figure with no discernible identity appears in a small, religious town, throwing its inhabitants into a frenzy
In a small, unnamed town in the American South, a church congregation arrives for a service and finds a figure asleep on a pew. The person is genderless and racially ambiguous and refuses to speak. One family takes in the strange visitor and nicknames them Pew.
As the town spends the week preparing for a mysterious Forgiveness Festival, Pew is shuttled from one household to the next. The earnest and seemingly well-meaning townspeople see conflicting identities in Pew, and many confess their fears and secrets to them in one-sided conversations. Pew listens and observes while experiencing brief flashes of past lives or clues about their origin. As days pass, the void around Pew’s presence begins to unnerve the community, whose generosity erodes into menace and suspicion. Yet by the time Pew’s story reaches a shattering and unsettling climax at the Forgiveness Festival, the secret of who they really are―a devil or an angel or something else entirely―is dwarfed by even larger truths.
Pew, Catherine Lacey’s third novel, is a foreboding, provocative, and amorphous fable about the world today: its contradictions, its flimsy morality, and the limits of judging others based on their appearance. With precision and restraint, one of our most beloved and boundary-pushing writers holds up a mirror to her characters’ true selves, revealing something about forgiveness, perception, and the faulty tools society uses to categorize human complexity.
"Unsettling, mundane, and funny, Lacey’s fictions sometimes read as if characters let loose from Beckett were wandering through a recognizable, even realist landscape . . . [Pew is] the logical and relentless development of this bold young writer’s previous work . . .Pew is a brave book, in both concept and execution. These days, few writers would venture a novel structured around an almost mute enigma . . . [Pew] throws down a challenge to our readerly hospitality." --James Wood, The New Yorker
"[A] puzzle of a novel . . . Lacey has always been an economical writer, and she is as taut as she’s ever been here . . . These monologues make sections of the book read like Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy blended with the creeping unease of Ari Aster’s horror film Midsommar . . . it is within [Pew's] messier reaches, and its concerns with inequality and prejudice, that its boldest and most brilliant effects are found." --Chris Power, The Guardian (Book of the Day)