Virtual Event: Catherine Lacey
in conversation with JESSE BALL
August 3, 2020
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Free - $3 contribution suggested at registration
Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes Whiting Award–winning writer CATHERINE LACEY—author of the acclaimed novels Nobody is Ever Missing and The Answers—for a discussion of her latest novel, Pew. She will be joined in conversation by JESSE BALL, celebrated author of the celebrated novels Census and The Divers' Game.
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While payment is not required, we are suggesting a $3 contribution to support this author series, our staff, and the future of Harvard Book Store—a locally owned, independently run Cambridge institution. In addition, by purchasing a copy of Pew on harvard.com, you support indie bookselling and the writing community during this difficult time.
In a small, unnamed town in the American South, a church congregation arrives for a service and finds a figure asleep on a pew. The person is genderless and racially ambiguous and refuses to speak. One family takes in the strange visitor and nicknames them Pew.
As the town spends the week preparing for a mysterious Forgiveness Festival, Pew is shuttled from one household to the next. The earnest and seemingly well-meaning townspeople see conflicting identities in Pew, and many confess their fears and secrets to them in one-sided conversations. Pew listens and observes while experiencing brief flashes of past lives or clues about their origin. As days pass, the void around Pew’s presence begins to unnerve the community, whose generosity erodes into menace and suspicion. Yet by the time Pew’s story reaches a shattering and unsettling climax at the Forgiveness Festival, the secret of who they really are—a devil or an angel or something else entirely—is dwarfed by even larger truths.
Pew, Catherine Lacey’s third novel, is a foreboding, provocative, and amorphous fable about the world today: its contradictions, its flimsy morality, and the limits of judging others based on their appearance. With precision and restraint, one of our most beloved and boundary-pushing writers holds up a mirror to her characters’ true selves, revealing something about forgiveness, perception, and the faulty tools society uses to categorize human complexity.
Praise for Pew
“A stranger comes to town, and takes us with them into their estrangement among the denizens of a conservative religious community. The people of this community are stifling, and generous, cruel, earnest, needy, overconfident, fragile and repressive, which is to say that they are brilliantly rendered by their wise maker, Catherine Lacey.” —Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers
“The mercurial and electric Catherine Lacey has now conjured up an of-the-moment fable of trauma and projection—one part Kaspar Hauser, one part James Purdy, and one part Rachel Cusk. The pages shimmer with implication.” —Jonathan Lethem, author of The Feral Detective
"[A] puzzle of a novel . . . Lacey has always been an economical writer, and she is as taut as she’s ever been here . . . These monologues make sections of the book read like Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy blended with the creeping unease of Ari Aster’s horror film Midsommar . . . it is within [Pew's] messier reaches, and its concerns with inequality and prejudice, that its boldest and most brilliant effects are found." —Chris Power, The Guardian (Book of the Day)
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