STARRED REVIEW
August 2020

Pew

By Catherine Lacey

An ambitious fable that speaks to our need to classify and control, Pew tells the story of a person of indeterminate race and gender whose arrival throws a community into an existential crisis at the same time that they are readying themselves for the ominously named Day of Forgiveness.

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An ambitious fable that speaks to our need to classify and control, Pew tells the story of a person of indeterminate race and gender whose arrival throws a community into an existential crisis at the same time that they are readying themselves for the ominously named Day of Forgiveness.

Arriving at church one morning, residents of a small Southern town find a young person asleep in a pew. The person, who refuses to identify themselves or even speak, appears to be gender nonconforming as well as racially nonspecific. A well-intentioned family volunteers to take the stranger home, naming them Pew after the church bench where they were found. 

Pew’s silence creates a kind of blank slate that draws in members of the community; confessing fears, dreams and past transgressions is easier to a wordless stranger. But kindly curiosity quickly becomes threatened by Pew’s utter refusal to self-identify, reveal anything about their past or even allow a doctor to examine them. The community’s compassion turns quickly to fear and skepticism, and soon Pew is moved behind lock and key, separated from the other children and eventually relocated to a different part of town. 

In Pew, Catherine Lacey explores the human need to classify along with the narrowness of the human imagination. The townspeople’s urgent need to know just who and what Pew is appears shallow, even racist, when their level of care seems to ebb and flow with this information or lack of it. With creepy allusions to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and a timely exploration of gender’s mutability, Pew is provocative and suspenseful, a modern-day parable about how our fear of otherness stands in the way of our compassion. 

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Pew

Pew

By Catherine Lacey
FSG
ISBN 9780374230920

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