BOOKS: Catholic novel set in Haiti sure to sneak up on readers

“Indelible Fixation,” By Marie José Roumain, is available through Changing Hands bookstore, www.changinghands.com.

One thing that all readers need to be aware of is that sometimes books will sneak up on them.

Marie-José Roumain’s new novel, “Indelible Fixation” is one of those. For a creative writing instructor like me, however, any novel titled with words of more than two syllables is immediately suspect. This might seem trivial until we look at the “great” novels: “The Sun Also Rises,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Ben Hur,” or “Gone with the Wind,” and “Silas Marner,” all strong, simple one or two syllable word titles. Whenever creative writing instructors encounter such multi-syllable titles as “Indelible Fixation,” we worry about a penchant for highfaluting vocabulary and possibly a stodgy read.

But this is where this novel sneaks up on us.

The setting for the story is Haiti, mid and later 1990s, a place where angels and demons battle 24/7, 365 days a year including Christmas and Easter, a place where the Church is constantly under assault from the forces of voodoo, poverty, totalitarian political regimes and a harsh though lush environment.

But even a creative writing instructor can forgive a seemingly pretentious title with opening lines that reads “Devils and angels hurled down from heaven on a mission to win separate souls for their separate causes. The recruitment lasted through Shrove Tuesday into dawn of Ash Wednesday. Most participants feasted gluttonously; many indulged in the seven cardinal sins. A few were accidents of fate. Three youngsters faced two choices: escape or perish.”

This is great promise because not many books throw the entire thing — plot, theme and the moral of the story — down in the opening lines.

The story concerns three young people whose lives eventually become biblical archetypes; they are: Victor Hassac, who becomes a priest, following two uncles; his best friend Phillip Louventure, who becomes an accountant, tax-collector, and then much worse; and Leza Pineau, the fallen woman between them. Leza loves Victor, Phillip loves Leza and nothing gets completely resolved, nor, as we eventually discover, does it need to. Victor and Phillip move to the same village of Cascade Town while Leza inexplicably disappears from the story until referenced near the end.

Sorting the real from the unreal in this place of suffering and cruelty is sometimes wholly difficult because of the duplicity natural to the human condition. Naturalistic and super-naturalistic forces abound and play the great cosmic chess game with the souls of the faithful and the unfaithful as its pawns.

What delivers hope and the possibility of redemption are the cadre of characters surrounding Victor in his parish, especially a farmer named Tines, the faithful archetype who always hates the sin but still loves the sinner. Never doubt the significance of names in a novel: Tines tills the soil, as in the tines of a cultivator, seeking ever the good harvest, while Phillip becomes a land speculator cheating residents at the bidding of a childish voice — the Devil — hidden behind the gates of the biggest estate in the Cascade Town vicinity.

Tines and the other faithful fight constantly for justice, remain loyal to the fundamental teachings of the Church, and constantly practice the great, abiding act of forgiveness.

Themes in the novel run the gambit of Church teaching: faithfulness to Christ and His Church, the sanctity of life at all moments in the human life-cycle, charity, kindness, forgiveness, and even an exorcism of demonic possession demonstrating the ultimate power of God.

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that the gates of Hell shall not prevail, even if they are just up the road from Victor’s parish, which is obviously why the priest’s name is “Victor,” (again, never let these names escape scrutiny).

“Indelible Fixation” is a book that sneaks up on us — a seemingly abstract, multi-syllable title explodes into a magnificent play of passion and compassion, in which some character in the story represents each one of us.

Vastly catechetical, without seeming presumptuous, the novel gives us all a glimpse of what faith and Church can do, even in the most cruel and difficult of circumstances.

Given a broad-range marketing plan, “Indelible Fixation” becomes a classic of Catholic literature. Published by Jantili Press.

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