Title: Deacon’s Folly
Author: James Thibeault
Publisher: Sartoris Literary Group
ISBN:  978-1941644737
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction

Reviewed by:  Joe Kilgore

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James Thibeault’s inaugural novel is a rare find. It’s a piercing indictment of man’s inhumanity to man that is never preachy nor pretentious.  It delivers its message not through a sermon, but rather through its story.  Perhaps best of all, it is not without hope, leaving at the end, a good feeling with the reader.

Revealing too much of the plot would be robbing the reader of the satisfaction of turning one page to the next in search of where this riveting tale is leading.  However, simply to set the stage, this is the story of a young boy in a small town weighed down by secrets, which have rendered all who live in the town captives of collective dissoluteness.

Thibeault has interestingly chosen to make the protagonist his narrator.  The story unwinds via the consciousness of a very special fourteen-year-old boy.  Not since Mark Haddon’s The Curious Case of The Dog In The Night-Time has a young lad spun such an adult tale so compellingly.  The youth never seems to know or understand more than a boy of his age and as the circumstance would reveal. We readers are treated to epiphanies of our own based on his revelations.  In this way his surprises seem more real, more natural, and less obviously driven by plot exposition.  The hero, Devon, may put some in mind of Spooner, the character Pete Dexter created for his novel of the same name.  There is a wild, unpredictability about young Devon that reinforces his uniqueness and makes us not just curious about what will happen to him next, but also somehow conspiratorially responsible.

The references to the authors above are in no way meant to imply that Thibeault’s novel is derivative. It’s enthralling story and rich characterizations feel wholly original.  From the boy himself, to his haunted guardian, to the damaged clergyman who tries to help him, along with a young girl who believes in him and the various townspeople adrift in their own personal woes, these characters seem like few others you have ever read about before.

Because of its natural, conversational language, Deacon’s Folly reads swiftly, but it is a novel that is difficult to read emotionally. Thibeault brings to life intense scenes of unimaginable cruelty that we know happen and are often all too real.  He immerses us in guilt, both individual and collective, that seems too overwhelming to contemplate.  However we contemplate it, it makes sense because of the author’s skill in making us empathize with everything that is going on between the covers of this fine book.

For readers who treasure unforgettable stories as well as the tellers who spin such tales, let us hope that this first novel from James Thibeault will be far from his last.

“James Thibeault’s The Deacon’s Folly is a bleak but strangely engaging Brothers Grimm sort of fable, tottering precariously between both the reality and the dream-memory of young Devon, the story’s hero. Devon is trapped in the terrifying landscape of his own uncertain perceptions and the cruel distortions imposed on him by those who should have been his caretakers. But once nudged to it by the story’s obese and hapless Deacon, Devon enters onto a violent quest for the truth. He pursues that quest relentlessly, seeking both what is monstrously real and what might just possibly yield some small measure of hope and love…if he doesn’t destroy it himself along the way.”—Fr. Barry Bercier, Assumption College When a backwoods town has a barbecue, it’s to mock a teenage boy who nailed himself to a tree house. While Devon’s not the brightest bulb and has no recollection of his childhood, he’s a kind soul who seems friendly enough. Still, the whole town despises him. Only the new deacon in town takes sympathy towards the boy and is determined to discover Devon’s forgotten past, and the reason why it is never discussed.

Everything about Devon’s life is a mystery, from the whereabouts of his parents to Devon’s own memories. In the town, he is treated more like an animal than a person. Forced to live outside, Devon is looked after by his alcoholic guardian, Mr. Audette. Besides the deacon, the only person who takes pity on Devon is Mr. Audette’s daughter, Caroline, who has been running the household since her mother died years ago. Despite Caroline and Devon living next to each other, Mr. Audette forbids Caroline from socializing with him.

Few want to be near Devon. He spends most of his time alone and talking to the moon. At night, he suffers from dreams of people screaming. He doesn’t understand what it means, but tries to ignore it as best he can. For years, all Devon has done is block the torments in his head, the mockery from the town, and even his own memories. The deacon is convinced it’s time to know the truth.

At its core this book is about a young man who is forced by an entire town to come to terms with his disability and his efforts to learn to live in a community of individuals of lesser humanity than himself.

James Thibeault is a high school English teacher who works for Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, Massachusetts. With his B.A. and M.A. in English, he currently works with unique students with learning differences such as ADHD, Dyslexia, and NLD. Massachusetts has been his home for his whole life, but has lived in the city, the suburbs, and the country of this unique state. During his spare time, he loves to read and perform a variety of activities; such as, rock climbing, martial arts, and obstacle course running.