Meeting Evil
Thomas Berger
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Meeting Evil

Thomas Berger
Simon & Schuster
240 pages
May 2003
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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From the moment John Felton opens his front door to a stranger and agrees to help push the man's car downhill, something is very wrong. The stranger, Ritchie, has an obnoxious personality -- obsequious and given to flares of temper. John's nice-guy thoughtfulness has gotten him into an uncomfortable situation, one that quickly accelerates into chaos. I want to tell him "Don't do it," but, of course, he can't hear me. By then, like John, I have signed on for the ride.

John is a solid, innocuous man, easy to get along with but, as is quickly apparent, a screaming codependent. He is so cautious with the emotional comfort of others, unable to say no, that his habitual tentativeness leaves him at a disadvantage: an innocent waiting for slaughter. "He was conscious of a lifetime urge to do right." What happens when a rational man finds himself in an exponentially more dangerous situation, one in which he is helplessly mired in moral perplexities? As more innocent bystanders are drawn into Ritchie's vortex, it is John's conscience that refuses to allow his escape. At the mercy of a nimble-minded sociopath, the escalating violence and danger is intolerable, yet unpredictable.

John's quandary is whether he can maintain his integrity and self-respect while remaining a passive bystander. Is there a point when being a quasi-silent witness is not enough? As kind of a suburban Everyman, John's difficulty is in adapting to the bizarre circumstances that arise whenever Ritchie is at hand. Even when the madman invades the sanctity of John's home, John's wife is the perfect hostess, unaware of Ritchie's real identity. In her naivete, she is complicit with Ritchie, leaving John to coax the man from his house before more damage is done. "To be no hero was not shameful, but taking satisfaction in that state of affairs would be."

This is the story of a husband and father, a nice man, living each day in comfortable rapprochement with his environment, who has never questioned his ethics in the world at large. In a sense, John is a moral NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard-you-don't), complacent, his manhood unchallenged. When evil threatens those around him, John is paralyzed by equivocation. His only salvation lies in stepping out from behind easy rationalization to take whatever action necessary to stop the madness, even at the risk of personal harm. Meeting Evil poses the philosophical dilemma of a civilized society based on prescribed mores and pitted against intentional aberrant behavior. Make no mistake. The wrong decision carries serious consequences.

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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