The Lives of the Apostates is a work of fiction by the writer Eric Scott, who you may be familiar with thanks to his former and current blogging on sites like Patheos, Pagan Square, or The Wild Hunt. Scott is a second generation Pagan, and he has produced a unique and compelling piece of fiction centered on that experience.
Before I get into a more cerebral exploration of this story, let me just say that I blazed through this tale with real enjoyment. I do not read a lot of fiction. Full disclosure: I have a master’s degree in literature and teach writing. Most of what I read is academic. Even as a child I was drawn to non-fiction, but I do love fiction. I just don’t seek it out as much as I do other types of writing.
In this case, I am very glad that I paid attention to the news items about this work. I wanted to attend the book signing, but I had to work extra hours that evening, tutoring writers. So, I took advantage of a sale and got this for my Nook.
This review will be mostly spoiler-free, but I will look at some specifics from the story. Here’s just a bit of the synopsis from Amazon:
In a Midwest college town, a Wiccan student named Lou finds himself forced into taking a History of Christian Thought class from a religion professor who spends his weekends preaching at the local Baptist church. Between shifts as a caretaker for mentally handicapped men Lou calls “the boys,” he confronts his professor’s story of Christian triumph with increasing anger. [Source]
First of all, for such a short work the characters were fully realized. When the female character Lucy was introduced I had a momentary worry that she would fall into the manic pixie dream girl trope, but was relieved when she didn’t. Yes, I do enjoy that trope sometimes, but a girl gets worried when she hears the description of a blue-haired woman with a dreamy voice! I did want to learn more about Lucy, but this wasn’t her story, and thankfully she wasn’t there just for the male protagonist, Lou. The symbolism caught up in their names is something else I enjoyed, but I won’t dwell on for this review.
Lucy was the counterpart to Lou’s experiences as a second-generation pagan. She had grown up in the same group that he did. In contrast, his roommate Grimey (just read the book) was a newcomer to the faith. What this does is bring up interesting questions in the mind of the reader. I began to reflect on my own experiences as a person brought up in a secular home with some exposure to Christianity and Paganism.
The prevailing Christian culture is the sort of general antagonist that moves along with the characters. It’s intriguing because the Christian characters range from neutral to meddling to poisonous. They move in a different world that they take for granted, which reflects our own reality as Americans.
*Spoiler Alert for this Paragraph* As a writer and an analyzer of literature, one of the things that I most enjoyed about the artistry of this tale was the symmetry going on. In the minor realm of interesting connections was the presence of metal music and the contrast between watching television at work and in the past with a friend. The beginning and end of the story contain a larger moment of symmetry that contrasts thought with action. Finally, perhaps the most important to me was the painful, destructive reunion of a mother and son in sharp relief with the painful destruction of another mother and son relationship.
This story will be of interest to anyone invested in their religious identity. I highly recommend it. Bonus points if you are a fan of wrestling (Shhh. Don’t tell anyone how much I love the Undertaker.)