‘Beasts of the World’ depicts the wickedness of humans in a broken world

Some stories have a certain mystical quality about them. They jump off the page and claim a place in your mind – but instead of drawing your eyes deep, they draw your attention outwards. There is nothing you can do but think about the terrifying reality of your life: the decisions you make, the way you see the world and the person you are becoming.

I have read only a few of these books in my life, and, surprisingly, there is not much precedent among them. They span different genres, centuries and cultures – books like “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck, Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air,” “Treacle Walker” by Alan Garner and the Bible.

“Beasts of the World” by James Wade is one of those stories. It’s a dark, heavy novel that follows the dual story of Harlen, a high school janitor haunted by his past, and Michael, a boy who escaped his father’s abuse. The book is disturbing, but Wade manages to convey darkness and tragedy without slipping into emotional or cheap language. His prose has a unique balance between intention and poetry that gives this novel a meditative tone, almost like that of a traditional story.

And wrapped in this beautiful text is a book that deals with the most important issues in life: evil and death. Life is cruel, and people can be incredibly mean – this fact has huge implications for everyone, fiction or not. As Michael struggles to fight an unknown evil, he meets several people who each have different ways of understanding the world in its dirty glory.

First, there is Remus – a hermit who lives alone in the forest – who takes in Michael when he is empty and desolate. Remus is polite and kind and unfailingly handsome, full of poetry and wit. He firmly refuses to believe in god, choosing instead to place his faith in the beauty that lies around all sides of this life, in hidden moments and quiet places.

While this may sound good on paper, if you expand his worldview outwards and consider the practice of such faith, you end up with someone like Julian in “The Secret History” of Donna Tartt – always insists on beauty and cannot accept anything less than beauty. , always making his world beautiful and thus creating a life that is unstable, cold and ultimately false. Maybe there’s a reason why Remus lives alone in the forest – people can’t help but hurt and hurt him. Regardless, Michael was abused too much in the world to join Remus in his belief in the good and the good.

Harlen, meanwhile, is a survivor of great evil – yet he clearly sees himself as part of the problem, as not only a victim but also a perpetrator. Wade’s unflinching belief that the roots of such malevolent evil can reside in even the best of people is a rare thought in today’s culture of self-help and personal growth books, and it certainly is. it can be thought about.

Ultimately, Harlen’s solution is isolation. He wants to reduce the evil in the world by detaching himself from it; he refuses to add to what is already completely full, a world burdened and dripping with suffering and great pain. In many ways, this is a reasonable solution – if he can’t do good, he might as well reduce the bad.

The other is Deacon, Remus’ former lover and old friend, who comes to comfort Remus as he slowly dies. The deacon believes in mercy—the miracle that allows us to live together closely with others, to show mercy and forgiveness for when we hurt each other, because we hurt the people we love the most.

And in this sense of search, Michael does something I’ve never read in a book before: He looks at religion.

I found this very surprising for a book written in 2022; the number of people who identify as religious has declined significantly, a trend that is expected to continue in the coming years. In my experience, this trend has been most evident within the realm of public education. I’ve had history teachers who “explain” religious miracles and biology teachers who suggest that religion is for stupid people who want to believe in a higher power to make them feel good. happy with a purposeless life. But “Beasts of the World” seems to present a different picture.

In this story, religion is sought by a person who does not retreat from the negative aspects of life and believes that there are things in this world that cannot be passed by chance and nature. Michael sees that there is an evil too deep and too evil to be natural, and it hurts that torments our souls so violently that people can become mere animals – which brings us to the thought of God.

Throughout “Beasts of the World,” Wade writes about God. From the introduction to the last pages, he portrays God as indifferent, unsympathetic and indifferent to human suffering. The basic message is that if God it does to exist, such a god is not worth knowing or believing in.

Fortunately, this is just a book, and my experience of God is not the same as what Wade describes. The God I know is unimaginable mercy and supreme love, “who is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” who weeps when a friend dies and bears evil. everything in the world is in him. He is the pinnacle and source of all that is good and worthy, and the reason for hope in a broken world.

But the people who appear in “Beasts of the World” do not have such hope. In a surprising plot twist at the end of the book, Wade’s decision seems to be nihilistic – it’s better to die on the ground than live to see this ugly world for what it is.

Whether you agree with the worldview he presents or not, there is certainly one unquestionable merit in this book. “Beasts of the World” grapples with questions that most people would prefer to avoid, bringing them to light through fearlessness and poetry.

Daily Arts Correspondent Pauline Kim can be reached at kpauline@umich.edu.

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