It's the 18th again so, you guessed it, I'm back with my monthly #IndieBooksBeSeen book review! Enjoy! :-)
Swiftly Sharpens The Fang by Stuart Kenyon:
Joseph Travis seems like a regular guy. He has friends he likes to hang out with, an intelligent, beautiful girlfriend he loves, and he enjoys living it up on the weekends. His job is soul-killing, but that's not anything that most of us can't identify with. And the hobby he enjoys the most is boxing, a little violent, but he's a healthy young man with a frustrating and sedentary job, and he needs an outlet for his energy and aggression. All-in-all, he seems like a regular Joe (pun intended) with just enough of an edge to make him interesting.
Joseph is even rather liberal and enlightened in his outlook and attitudes. In a world where bigotry and intolerance are becoming more and more blatant and accepted, he maintains an open-minded position, willing to listen and educate himself about the various viewpoints. But, overall, he isn't inclined to hate anyone or blame entire segments of the population for the problems created by a few. That is, until things start to change.
It's subtle at first, but through a series of unfortunate events, some of them at least partially his fault, Joseph's worldview starts to change. He begins to see malicious intentions where none exist and to ascribe malevolent characteristics to groups of people after observing them in only one or two individuals. In short, his open, tolerant nature changes to one of bigotry and hate. And it's frightening how easily and naturally the devolution of his attitudes occurs.
The thing I liked most about this story is that it illustrates how easily a person's point of view can be shaped by the people and society around them. Most people look with askance at those who subscribe to violent, extremist ideologies. After all, it's hard to imagine how anyone could come to hate others so much that they would be willing to commit murder over a political or religious philosophical difference. And yet, terrorism is becoming increasingly common, so something must be radicalizing people. Because no terrorist ever sprung up out of a vacuum. Something must happen to turn "normal" people into terrorists, but what?
That's a question that Swiftly Sharpens The Fang attempts to answer, and the method for such a conversion that Stuart Kenyon illustrates in this novel is both surprising and frightening. Because Joseph Travis really is just a normal guy. He has had a couple of severe traumas in his life but overall he's just like most of us, he works, plays when he can, and tries to make connections with other people so he can figure out where he fits into society. There is no burning passion in him; no dominating ideology, extreme or otherwise. He's just a guy living his life and the process by which he comes to adopt extreme philosophies is terrifying because of its very banality and insidiousness.
Joseph isn't a deeply thoughtful or reflective person. He isn't stupid, but he doesn't take a lot of time to analyze the people around him. Like many of us, he's too caught up in his own life and concerns to take much time to research the things he reads in the media or hears from his friends, so he tends to take them at face value. The few times he does take the trouble to fact-check something, he finds that what he had heard or read either wasn't entirely true or wasn't the whole picture. But he fails to keep that in mind when the next heavily biased article or self-interested "friend" presents him with an inflammatory story or statistic.
As his attitudes and actions become more extreme, Joseph loses more and more of the moderating influences in his life. He gives up the job he hates to immerse himself more in the new society he has discovered. Friends who share his previous, more open-minded outlook either avoid him because they disapprove of his behavior, or he avoids them because they now make him uncomfortable. And, instead of viewing that discomfort as the warning that it is, Joseph instead gets closer to his new "friends." Because doing so is easier and it feels better, which is the same reaction that most of us would have, if we're honest.
As his new "friends" become more central to his world, Joseph works harder and harder to earn their approval. After all, it's just human nature to want to be liked by those around us. And he ignores anything that might contradict what his "friends" tell him. Even his own experiences aren't enough to cut through the fog of disinformation that surrounds Joseph. When something happens that proves the lies that his "friends" are telling him, he rationalizes or dismisses it as a fluke. How many of us have made excuses for the people we like or admire, even when, if we are honest, we know they are wrong?
Overall, this novel paints a detailed picture of how easily and quickly people can slide into extremism and violence. Mr. Kenyon does a fantastic job of illustrating the dangers inherent in existing in an echo chamber and allowing emotion rather than logic to rule our actions. Simply by failing to verify the accuracy of the information we consume, refusing to entertain the thoughts put forward by opposing voices, and by allowing ourselves to be loyal to personalities rather than principles, any one of us might follow in Joseph Travis's footsteps. In a world that is becoming more and more polarized, Swiftly Sharpens The Fang is a timely reminder that we need to be careful how partisan we allow ourselves to become. Objective truths do still exist and they do still matter, and it's up to every one of us to seek them out and not allow ourselves to be deceived by those with ulterior motives.
Like Mr. Kenyon's other book, Subnormal, I gave this book five stars and, once again, I'd like to give it more if I could. There are adult themes and situations in this novel that wouldn't be appropriate for children, but I think everyone from juniors and seniors in high school and older should read this story. I think we could all do with the reminders that it offers.