After struggling for years to actually finish a work of fiction that I’d bother publishing, I finally did it–thanks to National Novel Writing Month. After writing The Curiosity Manifesto early last year, I wanted to write a story connected to one of its themes. One of the things I touched on in that book was the idea of humility. Given that none of us has all the answers and that we’re all susceptible to error, we ought to be cautious in our judgement of others. Coupled with my recently rekindled interest in existentialist works like The Stranger and The Trial, I stumbled upon and slowly developed the concept for Guilt Remains.
In my first novel, I wanted to show the hypocrisy of judgment. I wanted to show the existential paradox that we’re all simultaneously victims of our circumstances and utterly responsible for our vices. I wanted to write a story investigating what it means for fallible people to find themselves in the absurd position of acting as judges. What better way to do that than with a jury?
A word of caution for those sensitive to explicit content: I pull no punches in revealing the darkness of humanity in this novel. There is a good bit of sexual content, violence, and vulgar language. So, you’ve been warned: reader discretion is advised.
Now, if the reader advisory doesn’t scare you off and I’ve still piqued your interest, here’s the description that I put on the back cover:
When a dying town is shocked by the brutal murder of its hometown hero, twelve strangers must set aside the routines of their ordinary lives to serve as jurors in the trial.
At first, the jurors seem like ordinary citizens just struggling to get by and find their way in the world. As details about their lives emerge, however, their capacity for objective judgment becomes obscured.
Can these law-abiding citizens bury the issues they’re dealing with in their own lives in order to fairly determine the fate of the accused? Or, will their own doubts and insecurities prevent them from passing judgment?
The darkness of human nature. Guilt and innocence. The hypocrisy of judgment. All of these themes collide in the lives of these ordinary people as they each seek to find the answer as to where the guilt remains.
Are We Blind Too?: Exploring the Theme
Even though the plot of the novel centers around a trial, the title doesn’t have anything to do with the judicial system. You might not catch the vague allusion I make to the reference in the story and, if you’re like me, you probably don’t even read the epigraphs at the beginning of books. So, I’m going to spell it out here. “Guilt Remains” is taken from a saying of Jesus–in the New International Version of the Gospel of John.
John 9 tells the story of Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth. There are a lot of provocative theological and existential ideas that come out of the story, but my favorite is summed up in what Jesus says at the conclusion of the story.
After the blind man is healed, he is eventually cast out by the religious leaders of his community because he refuses to condemn Jesus. Later, Jesus catches up to him and reveals who he really is to the man. Then, within in earshot of the religious watchdogs who had thrown him out, Jesus begins to speak in John 9:39:
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
In other words, Jesus is teaching these high-minded religious folks an important lesson about human nature: we are blind to the extent that we fail to acknowledge our blindness. Of course, Jesus isn’t talking about physical blindness; he is talking about moral blindness. Human beings are fundamentally flawed and, given this reality, the only way we can really “see” is to acknowledge our limitations.
In the Christian faith, the notion of humanity’s universal corruption is often understood in terms of original sin–that mankind is “fallen” from its moral ideal. But this isn’t a distinctly religious concept. It’s an existential concept embedded in the adage, “to err is human.” It’s not that we’re purely evil but, rather, that we’re imperfectly good. We are lacking in both our understanding of what it means to be good and our ability to live up to whatever standards we set for ourselves–and this lack weighs heavily upon our hearts.
Think about it; even if you are a hard-nosed rationalist and you believe that we are merely products of evolution through random selection, then we are by our very nature “incomplete.” We are all works-in-progress. There may not even by an ideal but we still find ourselves striving for one and falling embarrassingly short. We are a broken people, a fallible people, a blind people. We are all, by our very nature, guilty.
If this all sounds a little pessimistic, well, it kind of is. If you’re looking for something light and inspirational to read, Guilt Remains isn’t it. But there is a redemptive implication of this theme, I think–and it’s what I really want readers to take away from the book. Basically, I want to readers to examine themselves and ask the question, “Given that we’re all susceptible to moral blindness, how ought we treat one another?”
Essentially, I’m trying to teach the same lesson that Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:1-4: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” All too often, we forget that we’ve got logs in our own eyes when we are preoccupied with taking twigs out of the eyes of others. Like Jesus, I’m hoping that my story calls attention to the absurdity and hypocrisy of judgment. None of us are fit for the judgment because, if we were honest with ourselves, we’d find ourselves sitting in the seat of the accused.
So, yes, I’ve painted a fairly grim picture of humanity. I have made the claim that we’re all frail, all fallible, all fallen. But I think that, if each of us acknowledges our own frailty, we’d at least be able to see that we’re all in this together. And, if we can learn to get along, we might just be able to find our way to a greater vision.
Where Can I Get Guilt Remains?
Why, I thought you would never ask! I published the book through Createspace–an independent publishing platform owned by Amazon.com. Eventually, you’ll be able to request it from your local book store or even put in a request for your local library to order it. But, right now, it’s available in paperback and as an eBook on Amazon.com. The paperback is selling for $10, and the eBook is selling for $2.99.
If you do end up purchasing the book and reading it, I want to ask a favor from you. First, I hope that you don’t see buying the book and reading it as a favor in and of itself; I hope you actually enjoy the story and find some meaning in it. Of course, I want to sell all of the books I can, but I don’t want any pity purchases–which brings me to the favor…
If you have a few minutes to spare after reading it, please review the book on Amazon.com. This gesture is extremely important for three reasons:
- A greater number of reviews leads to higher sales. They provide social proof–people are more likely to purchase it when they see others have read it. But also, with Amazon.com’s software, the book becomes more likely to be recommended to readers by Amazon.com when it has an abundance of reviews. This reason is entirely selfish. I want to sell more books. So, that’s what it’s a favor. Please and thank you.
- A greater number of reviews gives other readers a more realistic idea of the book’s contents. As the author, I am least qualified to provide an objective assessment of what my novel is about and how good (or terrible) it is. I want you to tell other people what you think so that they aren’t disappointed with what they get. This reason is for the benefit of other readers. Be a good citizen; don’t let people waste their money if you think that’s what they’d be doing.
- A greater number of reviews helps me improve as an author. I am hoping for honest and unfiltered feedback. I will read every review and take into consideration its criticisms, so I hope you are all merciless. If you don’t want me to judge you (and I will–ironically enough given the theme of the novel–because I’m a fallible human being completely susceptible to petty pride), leave your review anonymously. I could really use the feedback. So, this last reason is also selfish–I plan to write another book next year, and I want it to be better. So, please, help me be a better writer.
Okay, thanks for reading this post about me talking about my novel. I’m done running my mouth now; you can go read the book. Here are the links again to the eBook and the paperback, just in case you missed them 😉
Note: Healing of the Man Born Blind image by Duccio is used with permission from The National Gallery, licensed via Creative Commons.