Contemporary Books, October 13, 2015
“The strictly good and solely bad were gone.
I was amongst the undecided.”
– Augustine Shaw, Stone Angels
As a reader, there is nothing quite exciting as picking up a book from an author you have never heard of, with the summary of the story promising an escape and a good read. It’s very much like going on an adventure-its what all good books are. Stone Angels by Michael Hartigan is the most recent book that I came across and delivered on its promise. This is a lyrical and thoroughly engrossing story about Augustine Shaw, a young man who reflects on the last few years of his life in college, which includes his experience with first love, friendships gone awry and the unintended consequences that occur when both aspects of his life overlap one another.
The story opens up with Augustine, who goes by nickname Shaw, on the road back from a drunken getaway with three of his college friends. They are all about to graduate and Shaw is about to be catapulted into adulthood. In the dead of the night, with his car nearly out of gas, he stops to refuel at a gas station and it is there on the wall he finds written: “Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.” And so begins his journey towards self-redemption and forgiveness.
He utilizes the long, solitary journey on the road back home to reflect on the last few years of his life, that no doubt will shape the person he is about to become. The book is told in a first person narrative and the author utilizes this voice very effectively. This story has less to do with what happened, in terms of events, and more with what Shaw thinks and feels. Stone Angels isn’t a story about man vs man, but man vs himself. This is a very important part of the story because Shaw’s internal story is the one that matters the most.
Among the many aspects that made this book an enjoyable read was the prose. The author demonstrated his talents with many passages and descriptions that brought Shaw’s experiences to another level. As a reader, it was incredibly satisfying to have the character display an emotion or thought, and also have the world around him conjured up in a way by the author’s words. This gave the book a sense of literary cohesion.
Another great aspect of this book were all the cast of characters. Though this story is told in the first person, all the people that surrounded Shaw were effortlessly conjured up, helping to weave Shaw’s story together. It was easy reading through the book and feeling like you were there for every drunken brawl or intimate conversation Shaw had with another character. Lily, who is a major character in the book and at the center of Shaw’s story, isn’t actively present in a lot of scenes, but she is very much present in Shaw’s thoughts and actions. This was perhaps the magic of the book—a character who doesn’t have as much of a physical presence, but yet they are there in nearly all the passages, marked by their absence.
Like Lily who is physically absent from much of the story, another aspect of the story that one can argue is a character, is the dark emotion known as guilt. That guilt is always there, right on the edge of Shaw’s mind. Throughout the story it felt as though guilt were a mute character, shaping Shaw’s thoughts and actions. And it isn’t until he’s ready to confront his guilt that he’s able to confront himself as a person.
Though this story is very dark and dense, it was gripping story that was hard to walk away from. It was deeply satisfying to read about an intensely flawed character who holds himself accountable to all of his wrong doings, all while still eliciting sympathy from the reader.
Stone Angels is a psychological thriller, where the narrator takes you deep into the crevasses of his mind to reveal what guilt can do to you, and no matter how far try to you run away, guilt with always find you.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Stone Angels by Michael Hartigan
340 pages. Merrimack Media
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