For as many indecent characters as there are in Alex Tavares’ first novel, ironically titled Decency, the characters with virtually no redeeming qualities do not offend the reader. Rather, they are so compellingly well-developed that they draw the reader into the story; the reader wonders where these characters will take him, and as the reader goes along on their bizarre “magic carpet ride,” he hopes each gets an appropriate comeuppance – well, there is one exception.
Decency is set deep in the rural south. Tavares paints detailed pictures of the settings and scenes – so vivid and so real – and he populates the scenery with characters sometimes grotesque and monstrous. The protagonist is Lanier, who is described as “a young pastor of a Southern church and a hospital volunteer.” That is a tad misleading. More accurately, Lanier is a pretend pastor who spends time at the local hospital pilfering as many different kinds and colors of pills as he can. And after he returns to where he lives to stash his stash, he enjoys an ample supply of marijuana that is always there, or he goes even higher with his home-made meth.
The story opens with Lanier offering his confession to a priest, a somewhat perverse attempt to prove himself a decent person. The reader quickly realizes that Lanier is just a despicable thirty-year-old reprobate. While there may have been some shred of “decency” in Lanier when he tried to save his sister from the man who was assaulting her, any decency was lost the night he murdered that man and inadvertently killed his sister. Everything Lanier did after that night was a pitiable attempt to regain his place in the eyes of God – to demonstrate his new-found “decency.”
As Lanier’s story continues, the reader wants to know more about him and is frequently surprised but never disappointed. Tavares also introduces the reader to four teenage boys, one of whom has a chance encounter with Lanier. The eldest of the boys, Corey, then introduces his three friends to Lanier’s world of drugs and depravity, just as Lanier had introduced Corey into that world. Tavares sculpts each teenager as an individual, and though they share much in common, each has his personal response to his experiences on the fringes of Lanier’s world.
Tavares’ development of the plot and the characters is masterful. Tavares brilliantly creates an uncomfortable environment and does so with extraordinary skill and craftsmanship. Decency, by Alex Tavares, is an excellent novel, a compelling story that you will not want to stop reading.
Article Written By: Ed Coursey.