Novels are works of fiction, by and large. But we can often learn from them, especially if some of thesubject matter is unfamiliar to us as readers. In this romance, I learned about aspects of American Basketball, the position and influence of the church on certain moral issues and the ways in which business might be conducted in the USA.
This is essentially a love story, employing an important theme with which I have sympathy: it discusses, through the interactions of its protagonists, the difference between lust and love. The eponymous Charley is a very strong female character and, in PJ, she is thrust, literally in certain passages, into the arms of a very strong male character. Their introduction, mutual exploration of sex and love, and their attempts to resolve the problems they face in getting together form the plot of the story.
I have to confess that much of the Basketball description went over my head. As a Brit, I have little knowledge of the sport and, with its own jargon, which is clearly understood by aficionados, I was often in the dark. But it wasn’t important, as the sports sequences are few and their content is more emblematic and symbolic than essential. I was able to grasp enough to understand the significance.
Similarly, although I’ve been involved in the business world, both as practitioner and in the role of tax collector, many of the practices exposed in the book were new to me. Of course, this is set in the southern states of the USA, so a degree of fraud and double-dealing was not unexpected. The author makes no moral judgement on the issues raised, but allows readers to come to their own conclusions, which is a stance I heartily applaud.
Also, as an agnostic, albeit raised on the rather loose moral standards of the Church of England, I’m not particularly sympathetic to the church movement as a whole. I felt the author managed very well to convey the inherent hypocrisy and self-imposed blindness of the protagonists as they allowed their actions to declare their true feelings whilst their words frequently hinted at more scriptural concerns. Again, it was left to readers to make their own judgements. In spite of the inclusion of scriptural references, I never felt I was being preached at.
The characters are drawn so well that it’s easy to get to know them and to feel with them. Since such empathy is an essential component of fiction for me, I was able to enjoy the read so much more. Written in the first person, and with occasional ‘mental asides’ that hint at the true state of mind of Charley, this complex and multi-layered piece of fiction reads easily, whilst challenging the reader to make certain judgements, sometimes only to discover that new facts must overturn those conclusions.