Pew by Catherine Lacey
Pew by Catherine Lacey is equal parts hilarious and startling. Hilarious because Pew — the book’s protagonist — is an excellent curator of ‘that awkward moment’ and consistently makes everyone around them squirm, and startling because of everyone’s unpredictable and outlandish responses to Pew’s behavior.
Pew is ambiguous in every sense of the word. No one knows Pew’s race, gender, age, or even real name. And to make matters more interesting, Pew is completely silent, a reality that leaves everyone around them scrambling for what to say and do. A sense of vicarious discomfort is extended even to the reader.
Everyone is asking Pew questions: Who are you? Where did you come from? And everyone is insisting that they need answers, but Pew gives no answers, and in the chasm of silence left behind the entire community spills their darkest secrets. It’s almost as if the lack of a marker by which to judge Pew provides the community members with a sense of security that they will not be judged for or by the skeletons in their own closets.
Throughout the book, it’s eye-opening to reflect on how the inability to assign someone to a label or category can so viscerally discombobulate people. I’m reminded of the sentiments of Poet Alok Vaid-Menon when they observed that people tend to seek understanding rather than simply extending compassion. Why is it that this whole town is so obsessed with discovering Pew’s identity and past? What do the secrets revealed in the absence of answers say about the inquisitors? And more importantly, what integral parts of ourselves are you and I denying as we insist on the details of others?
As I read Pew, I repeatedly thought to myself, this is the weirdest book I’ve ever read. But the oddity of it was not necessarily in the story itself, but in the fact that Pew was such a loveable protagonist, one the reader is enticed to champion and even defend, without knowing a single thing about them. Often, with books and in the real world, we — or more specifically I — search for points of connection with people and experiences before extending empathy or support. Catherine Lacey, devised a story which impels the reader to love Pew just because, no rhyme or reason. What a weird and wonderful world it would be if we could love everyone in that way.
Pew by Catherine Lacey takes a powerful look at silence, the secrets it reveals, and the relationships it can foster. Pew remembers nothing about self but discovers so much about the world and its inhabitants. Pew is a beautiful glimpse into stories untold, and a reminder that if we forget ourselves and forget what we think others ought to be, we just might discover the unimaginable.