After the last St. James Lacop congregant passed away, the State repurposed the church as a meeting place for members of AA and other damned populations, but no one is damned enough to travel one hour northwest of Palmyra to a dirt cul-de-sac of six boarded-up farmhouses whose front porches are sunken and splintered open in places where people once worked on chairs and smoked corncob pipes; the church’s disrepair is a statement about how little twenty-first century God participates in the lives of the dysfunctional and insolvent.
Sometimes, right off the bat, I pick up on the wrong cues, or misinterpret the right cues, then hang on to those faulty premises so hard I’d rather ignore how completely confused I am rather than reconsider my initial assumptions. We’re talking about reading, right? Yeah, that, too.
The first thing that threw me was the capitalization of the word “State”. Typically, when we talk about a state like Maine or Oklahoma or North Dakota, the word isn’t capitalized; that one action of the shift key implies not a geographical division but a larger government presence. This got me started on the wrong path, thinking some oppressive government was repurposing buildings and damning populations for flaws like alcoholism. Don’t tell me the past few months haven’t had an effect on my psyche. Add in Palmyra, and I wasn’t sure what country we were in (though I live in a state with towns like Mexico and Berlin and Calais). Even the corncob pipes couldn’t bring me back. Add in that I can’t count – or I can’t keep track of what century I’m in – and I ended paragraph 1 with the impression this was a future post-apocalyptic 1984-style novel. Hunger Games, for the young who aren’t sure what happened in 1984.
For the record, a far more accurate reading, one I eventually came to, is of a present-day, present-issue police procedural: the raiding of a polygamous, inbreeding cult to prevent the ongoing incestuous rape of thirteen-year-old wives and the conception of children doomed by an actual genetic condition science currently refers to as fumerase deficiency.
Once I got myself straightened out (and it’s amazing how long it took; no wonder it’s nearly impossible to convince anyone of anything once they’ve spent some time believing something else), I found the story for me resided in the comparison of two women, an unlikely pair: an investigator sent to conduct the raid, and one of the child-mothers she’s trying to rescue.
Peggy must win the group’s trust by the end of the day; otherwise, Laird will transfer her back to the windowless office filled with reports of missing persons. He was frank about why he invited her on board: “We need someone with a soft touch.” She is the only woman on the team.
While the recognized victim has been subjected to brainwashing and misogyny and under the control of men for all her 13-year-old life, officer Peggy is in pretty much the same predicament. We watch her as she wavers between two objectives: saving the girl, and saving her career, between believing her own instincts and following the rules.
Because I got off to such a bad start, I’m afraid I never gave the story a fair chance. I suspect it’s a lot more intricate than I recognize, but for me, that’s become the point, a sort of meta-lesson for the times. And sometimes, my search for accompanying art can connect me to a story. Here, I just got distracted by images of fumerase. Thanks to MOOCs, primarily Eric Lander’s Intro to Bio course from MIT, I actually have some idea of what that picture shows: alpha helices, a couple of small beta sheets, some random coils and loops, and the presence of the positively-charged lysine at the 324th position on the protein, with histadine on the 188th spot. That’s a weird thing to get from a story, but I’m trying to be more open to possibilities. Maybe I should focus more on reading the story correctly.