Sally Whitney, When Enemies Offend Thee, Pen-L Publishing (March 1, 2020) ISBN-13-978-1683132110 327 pages
What happens when a deeply-wounding crime cannot or won’t be pursued by law enforcement?
What happens when the justice system turns its back on the victim?
What happens when the victim cannot live with being ignored?
Is it reasonable for a victim to enforce or seek their own justice?
Where is the distinction between justice and revenge? Is there one?
These are the questions that much of the U.S. confronts in 2020. They are also the questions posed by this new novel, and which are unfortunately, largely unanswered.
With her husband recently dead and both her adult children on opposite sides of the country, Clementine Loftis takes stock and decides to move back to the small, Southern town where she was raised. Her motives are to change her surroundings, to move on from her marriage, and to pursue a new career. Why she chooses this particular town is an unanswered mystery. While she grew up there, her parents are gone, there is no mention of friends, relatives, or an old family home, no traces of nostalgia. A long-standing interest in antiques leads her to start the town’s first antique store, opening the week of the town’s busy Valentine’s Day festival. Her contemporaries still living locally weren’t the close friends of her youth and an encounter with one of these contemporaries results in a brutal, knifepoint rape. When the local police are unable or perhaps unwilling to provide a satisfactory outcome, Clementine starts down the dangerous path that begins with taking matters into her own hands.
Most people, when confronted with basic questions of justice and morality, engage in personal struggles that don’t bring us all to the same answers. The few friends that Clementine takes into her confidence are sympathetic to her plight and loyally try to follow her lead. Ultimately each reaches their own conclusion about her actions until, finally, one by one, each becomes alienated and she is left completely alone in her quest. Whether her ultimate goal was justice or revenge is for each reader to decide.
The novel could have greatly benefited from good editing. Jarring non-sequiturs and descriptive inconsistencies sometimes led to confusion or the simple question ‘Why is that there?’ Clementine’s final, risky acts could have easily gone wrong but, in an unbelievable stroke of luck, came out in her favor. The relationships between Clementine and a new, African-American friend and her family are central to driving the plot forward. However, the friendship was so perfect that it didn’t feel real, rather almost as if it took place in a post-racist South. A nuanced and realistic exploration of that relationship would have been much more satisfying.
Still, the timeliness of the questions raised by Clementine’s story is undeniable. Viewing our own current events through this fictional lens may bring new perspectives to many readers.
© Sally Whitney, R.M. Poole, and S.C. Hocker
Sally Whitney’s debut novel, Surface and Shadow, was released in September 2016. She also writes short stories, including “Everything Happens for a Reason,” which appears in Best Short Stories from the Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest 2017. She blogs at her website, SallyWhitney.com, and at LateLastNightBooks.com, a blog for readers of fiction.
Rockey M. Poole began reading in kindergarten. In second grade, his scathing review of “See Dick and Jane” for the school newspaper resulted in third graders having to read and write book reports on Tolstoy and Kant. A rare, left leaning Harley-Davidson aficionado and avid reader, as an adult he much prefers mysteries. What Ever Happened to Dick and Jane? is one of his favorites.
Sue C. Hocker has led a much more mundane life yet maintains perspective through a broad range of fiction. She is one of those rare book borrowers who always returns it to its home. Like Rockey, mysteries, old and new, are a favorite genre.