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My Review: It's hard to believe that Jon Pineda's novel, APOLOGY, barely hits the 200 page mark. Why? Because as I sat back and went through my notes to prepare this review, I was pretty much stunned at all of the themes and thought provoking, philosophical questions that I had written in the margins, not to mention the span of years that is covered within the story. I'm not even going to lie-- I tend to like my novels 300+ pages. Maybe it's because it gives me that false sense of getting my money's worth. Or maybe it is just hard to wrap my brain around the idea of an author being able to write a story with depth in under 200 pgs. Whatever the case may be, I admire an author who can shatter my illusions as to what makes a truly memorable novel.
Here is what I liked about APOLOGY. The structure of the novel is broken into 8 parts, each part containing short, concise paragraphs (sort of like snapshots) that alternates between present day and flashbacks. This format and writing style makes for a very quick read. But don't let that fool you into thinking the story is...
poorly written. Pineda has an almost poetic-like style to his writing and there are many times I found myself reading a line and stopping to appreciate it. One such part is when Shoe finds his nephew's ball by the little girl:
"The ball lay hidden in the grass like some kind of giant egg. He picked it up, as if he were being watched, and slipped the ball under his flannel shirt. He hunched to hide this held object. Pressed to his side, it felt like a tumor that had moved on its own, out of his body and into a strange kind of freedom that was never meant to be. No, it was a stolen egg from long ago."
I also enjoyed the third person narration and was pleasantly surprised at the many different perspectives we see the story told through. You may think at first that some of these characters are unimportant to the story, such as the woman who comes forward and confesses to seeing Shoe leave the construction site that fateful morning. Why do we need to see things through her eyes? Who cares? I will get to its importance shortly.
One of the most interesting aspects of APOLOGY is Pineda's ability to create such a dynamic character in such a short amount of time. At the heart of the story is a man known as Shoe. He lives temporarily with his brother Paul and at the beginning of APOLOGY he has just found a job working construction. His brother's wife looks at him with disdain, and he is ridiculed at work, not only because he is an immigrant, but because of an old injury that causes him to drag his foot/leg, hence his nickname "Shoe". He has always felt like an outsider, plagued with hardship after hardship and because of this, has lived in a constant state of anxiety, waiting for more bad things to happen. He is an interesting, complex character because it's almost as if he is one man split in 2. On the one hand he is this introverted, deformed man that everyone, including his brother's wife, believes is this creepy, unintelligent outsider. But as the story progresses, you learn that underneath that rough exterior is a man with a heart of gold, a man whose real name is Exequiel. This is a man who refused to raise his voice during heated arguments with the only woman he ever loved because he had enough insight to know those were the type of men she was used to being with and he refused to fit that mold. He raised another man's child as if he were his own. And maybe the most amazing, self-sacrificing thing he has done of all, is taking the blame for a tragic accident caused by his nephew, Mario, which results in years of prison time.
While there is no doubt Shoe has a good heart, there were times I had to stop and wonder who's really to blame for the way people view him. Society has a huge role to play, after all, we constantly stereotype, judge, and belittle immigrants. But could this possibly be Shoe's fault as well? I hate that I even had to come to that conclusion but I think that is one of the lessons Pineda tries to teach us. That no matter how many times society fails you, which in Shoe's case is all the time, you can't give up. Giving up means they win, they can get away with it. And that is not what you want to teach your children.
I know that many immigrants try to live under the radar and fear that any kind of spotlight could cause issues for them and their families. On that fateful morning, Shoe wakes up and arrives to work early, hoping to impress his boss and prove his ignorant co-workers wrong. But his moment of positivity is shattered when he sees the body of the little girl and his nephew's ball with his name on it lying next to her. Shoe is stricken with fear and hopelessness. He automatically assumes that no one would believe him if he came forward because he is so used to bad things happening to him. Shoe takes his nephew's ball with him and decides silence is better than taking the risk of being accused.
When Mario later confesses to him what happened, Shoe asks Mario why he didn't tell someone and he gave the same answer he told himself: he was afraid that no one would believe him. This troubles Shoe and he realizes the error of staying silent. What kind of example is he setting for his nephew? He could have been a hero which he later realizes when another man comes forward to take the credit for finding the little girl, but Shoe will never know because of his silence.
While immigration is one of the main ideas throughout the story, there are so many other thought-provoking themes this novel presents and here are just a few.
- The concept of words coming back to haunt you. Before the little girl, Teagan, is tragically injured, Tom, her twin brother, says in a moment of irritation that he wishes she would get out of his life. They are words that cause him to carry around guilt for a long time. And they are words that made me wince because I think everyone at least once in their life has said something to someone that they later regret.
- Why bad things constantly happen to good people. Shoe is a good man but the author gives us plenty of examples of the hardships thrown his way since he was a small boy.
- The regrets of keeping silent VS. the consequences of coming forward and doing the right thing. Through Shoe and Mario's eyes we are shown the regret and guilt of keeping silent. But what I love about Pineda is that he never just gives us one way of looking at things. Earlier, I said that there was a woman that saw a man with a shovel and an odd gait that morning. Originally, the police thought the suspect was African American. The woman, who had just had a baby, battled with whether she should stay silent or come forward. She decided to come forward because a) she wanted to set a good example for her child and b) she didn't want the police to pin the incident on an African American man when she knew that the person who did it was not. You can't help but respect the woman for her bravery in coming forward because let's face it, sometimes doing the right thing is not always easy. But the consequence of her coming forward is Shoe being blamed.
- How lives intertwine and how 1 action can set off a series of events. I think the author sums it up nicely here in an abstract kind of way: "...Tom touched a bright ring of color near one of the engines. It was just to see if it had dried all the way. His fingertip caught briefly in the track. He stared at the spot, his fresh red print. Lines ran parallel and others converged."
The only issue I had with APOLOGY is how vague the author is with the nationality and ethnicity of his characters. I'm not sure if it was done on purpose or if Pineda assumed readers would be able to pick up on the subtle hints he leaves here and there throughout the story.
APOLOGY is a powerful little novel that should not be overlooked. I can see this book being used in a Multi-cultural Literature or Sociology class. I can also see this story being further explored in a feature film. It somehow reminds me of the 2011 award winning movie A Better Life, starring Demian Bichir. And after viewing the book trailer, I think APOLOGY has a shot if the right people in Hollywood snatch it up.
APOLOGY Book Trailer
AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Jon Pineda