Friday, 28 December 2018

The Book of Essie, by Meghan Maclean Weir.

           Essie (short for Esther Anne) Hicks has lived all of her seventeen years in the spotlight.  Her father is a fiery evangelical preacher, so successful that his sermons were televised, then eventually his whole family life, thanks to the determination and ambition of his wife Celia:  she has choreographed their lives into an enormously successful reality show – there are very few Americans who haven’t watched ‘Six for Hicks’, detailing the births of the six Hicks children and the joys that God gives Pastor Hicks and his staunch and loving wife as a reward for their faith - and the tragedies too, that strengthen their ties to the Divine.  God is good, and He certainly is to the Hicks family who have grown enormously rich on the proceeds of their virtuous popularity.  Donations flood in every week from those hoping that the Hicks’s holiness might shine a light on them, and now – now, handsome son Caleb Hicks has announced that he will run for Congress.  Thank you, Jesus!  The Hicks family is doubly blessed.
            Except that Essie has announced to her mother that she is pregnant.  Instead of asking who the father is, Celia treats her with contempt and confers with her producers as to how to manage The Problem:  send Essie away?  Pretend she is pregnant again?  Or try to arrange a love-at-first-sight romance and a speedy marriage for Essie to a suitable, paid-off bridegroom, with a televised wedding that will send the ratings into the stratosphere?  The latter is the best idea, especially when Essie has struck up an unlikely friendship with the school baseball hero:  he wants to leave their small town and attend a prestigious New York university but has no chance for his parents are nearly bankrupt.  They should be easily persuaded – money can buy anything, especially silence.
            But Essie has no intention of remaining silent:  she will decide the most opportune time to announce publicly the news that she has been raped repeatedly, and by whom. It has to have maximum impact, and could there be anything more public than to make the announcement to the hundreds who will cram the church and wait outside, and the millions watching and sighing at her beauty on TV.  Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.
            Ms Weir’s debut novel is a superb evocation of goodness spoiled, faith mocked, and money as the only God worth worshiping.  She exposes mercilessly the distorted values of today’s 21st century society, its double standards and hypocrisy.  She is a great and fearless writer.  SIX STARS  


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