K.M. Stross, the author of the post apocalyptic tale The Man in Black, The Woman in White gives us something quite different with Purgatory.
Purgatory is a border town on the southern edge of Arizona surrounded by a dry patch of nothing and not much else. (I copied that right from the book.) The choice of Purgatory as the name of the town is interesting, and after you read the book, you can decide for yourself whether it is appropriate, a metaphor for something deeper, or just what.
A priest walks into a bar….. I bet you thought it was going to be a bar joke, right? Actually, a priest walks into a cafe, and so it begins, a town where nothing is as it seems on the surface, not even the priest. He has come to Purgatory to act as Devil’s Advocate for the Church, which is in the process of canonization of the former priest of Purgatory, Father Aaron Abaddon. You might recall that Aaron was Moses’ older brother the first high priest of the Israelites, and is remembered for the miraculous blossoming of his staff or rod. At the command of Moses, he stretched out his rod in order to bring on the first of three plagues, the Plague of Blood. You would do well to keep this in mind as you read.
No one in town wants our Devil’s Advocate there; they are all reluctant to talk to him. The town has dwindled down to not much, but what is keeping it alive are the illegals – the undocumented Mexicans who continually slip across the nearby border, and are hired by the local ranch owners, the only way they can make their ranches pay. The Mexicans spend their money in town, and most of the shop keepers are glad to see them. There is a memorial in the center of town to Father Aaron, which brings in pious Mexicans. As one character says, the problem illegals go to other towns. Purgatory gets the faithful. The canonization of Father Aaron will do much for the town, in terms of tourists, and survival. Everybody wants this to go through.
But now, wait. We have a problem. Three of them, actually. Maybe more. A prior priest disappeared. No body found, no trace, no nada. And then there was the priest after him who …. dare I say it? …. killed himself. And we don’t actually know what happened to Father Aaron. He seems to have just disappeared, after working a number of healing miracles in town, and is presumed dead, hence the canonization. (You can’t make a saint out of someone still living.)
And then there is the church. Locked up. Unused now for several years. And it’s spooky, and nobody likes going there. The people say it is haunted.
Our protagonist Devil’s Advocate has an eye problem. He has glaucoma in his left eye, worsening daily. The future of his right eye is in doubt. And as the story goes along, he begins to have hallucinations — but only through his left eye, the one with tunnel vision, and darkening vision. If he closes that eye, and looks only through his right eye, all is normal.
Our Devil’s Advocate also seems to be searching for a particular person in addition to his Devil’s Advocate duties. Or is that why he is there in the first place? We begin to have the same problem as our protagonist, darkening sight, seeing ghosts in the periphery of our vision. But what we can see clearly is that his physical tunnel vision may also be a metaphor for his determined unwavering quest.
A complex story whose interwoven threads are only revealed to us little by little, this bizarre tale with its religious underpinnings has the feel of some of the mighty biblical stories of evil and revenge, and bring to mind some pertinent bible verses:
Romans 12:19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.
Deuteronomy 32:35 `Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.’
Leviticus 24:17-21 ‘If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. `The one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. `If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him.
A kind of mystery, a kind of paranormal story, a kind of political commentary, a kind of dark view of the world. Yeah. That about sums it up, leaving us with the question:
Do miracles really happen in this day and age?