Ben is writing his confession from Afghanistan, where he is about to volunteer for a dangerous mission. He realizes that he may never return, but even if he does, he knows that he must tell this tragic, shameful story that’s been eating him alive for two years.
When Jimmy’s older brother, Del, died in a car accident, Ben stepped up to help on the Lange’s dairy farm. Del had been a popular football player, and Ben was shocked to see how openly Mr. Lange favored him and despised skinny, artistic Jimmy. Ben began to treat Jimmy as if he were a younger brother, and Jimmy confided his dream of becoming a professional photographer, a dream his father would not even allow him to discuss.
One day, when Jimmy and Ben were working in the barn, Mr. Lange and his pastor came tearing up the drive, and Mr. Lange began beating Jimmy, shouting and holding a rolled-up magazine. When Jimmy ran to the house, Mr. Lange turned on Ben and told him never to return and to keep away from his son. It was not until Ben reached home that he saw that Jimmy had placed second in a prestigious photography contest, and that Jimmy’s sensuous photo of a shirtless, sleeping Ben was in a national magazine.
Overnight, Ben’s carefully planned, Yale-bound life began to unravel. Rumors ran rampant through the school and community, and Ben expressed his anger to Jimmy publicly. A few days later, Ben witnessed a horrific tragedy, but rather than exposing it, he ran away. Afterward, he quickly became enmeshed in a web of lies and deceit that threatened to destroy him.
Ilsa Bick has fashioned a tragic tale that leaves not only the protagonist, but also the reader wondering how to disentangle all of the false information without punishing the innocent. She shows that, although we may not be guilty of the charges against us, most of us are very aware of other sins for which we are truly guilty. Clearing our consciences without hurting others is a tricky business, and even though Ben has mostly good intentions, he makes some very bad decisions.
This was a very effective novel, with a couple of cautions for the sensitive reader. Ms. Bick has no use for Christians—or religious people of any kind—and she paints all of the Christians in the book as if they were members of the Westboro Baptist Church. It was highly offensive. Furthermore, all the scenes that could be gruesome were extremely so, with vivid descriptions of blood and gore. I am not a squeamish person, but I did find that I had to skim over those parts. Other than those two issues, The Sin-Eater’s Confession is an absolute page-turner with a very likeable, realistically flawed main character. The ending was not neatly resolved, which I found appropriate. Definitely worth your time and sure to generate lots of discussion.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.