Purity (Douglas Clegg)

Posted: August 15, 2015 in fiction
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I object to purity, as a concept. It’s an ideal that cannot, should not be reached. It’s the most unnatural idea people have invented, and it’s shocking that it’s hung on for thousands of years. Whenever people go on about it, I think about their need to control their environment as a way of controlling themselves. Clegg connects this concept to closeted guys, which is also what I think about.

Owen Crites, protagonist, introduces himself as a sociopath, but he’s not one of those nice sociopaths like Sherlock Holmes or Gregory House. He’s like Christian Bale in American Psycho. He spends his life trying to gain control over other people; since he’s poor, he focuses on making himself attractive, and gaining what advantage he can from proximity to the very rich. There’s especially Jenna, the girl he grew up with, but only during the summer. His dad is her dad’s gardener at the summer home in Rhode Island. She becomes his ideal of purity, until the time of our story, the summer after they graduate high school.

Enter Jimmy, Jenna’s boyfriend. It’s obvious that Jenna’s not pure any more. But when Owen spies on them at night, he watches Jimmy, not her. She’s merely the occasion for Owen to watch Jimmy in action. So he develops this brilliant plan to split the couple up by fucking Jimmy during Jenna’s birthday party. Because this will make Jenna want him. Both boys insist that they’re straight, but they still want to sleep with each other. So Owen sows the seeds of murder, but even though he’s consciously all about Jenna, he also swears his love and confusion to Jimmy, so what does he really want?

Part of Owen’s madness is his relationship to a small statue of a fish that he found washed up on the beach. He associates it with the Palestinian fish-god Dagon, sacrifices to it, bleeds on it, prays to it. When things start moving and he (and others) acts in ways he didn’t expect, he attributes all this revelation of subconscious desire to Dagon. It’s not my fault, God made me seduce your boyfriend. There’s always a scapegoat.

This is a short novella; since I read it on the Kobo, I can’t give you an accurate page count. It’s a thriller, and the first-person narrator makes me uncomfortable. There are sections narrated by other characters, which is nice. This is the sort of story that makes me think, yes, religious people are nuts, closeted people are nuts, and it’s best to stay away from both types, especially when they converge in one intelligent but insane young man.

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