Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Pop CultureReviews

Book Review: Sinner by Christopher Graves is too Misogynistic to Bother

I sure hope the script is better than the book. Screenwriter and actor, Christopher Graves, is what initially attracted me to the book, Sinner. As a filmmaker myself, I was interested to see how someone took a film script and turned it into a book. Usually, we see the opposite happening, where films are made out of books. I really hope the screenplay is better than the book because I was disappointed.

I like psychological thrillers, and the very beginning of Sinner had promise. It starts with a flashback to 1887 Missouri, where madam Minerva Yates is murdered outside her brothel, along with all of the women she employs. They are murdered by mostly hooded men, wearing masks with devil horns. They are known as the Bald Knobbers, a group of men who are religious zealots who believe it is their God-given duty to punish sinners, particularly women.

One teenage boy goes unmasked, Paul Adison, who is proud to spew religious vitriol, and call the women horrible names while saying they deserve to be murdered. After Minerva dies, the book heads into modern day with the introduction of Ann, a dowdy, single, middle-aged woman who loves romance novels. It is not long before Zeke, the modern-day relative of Paul, has kidnapped Ann to punish her for reading smutty novels when she is not married.

Quickly, readers are also introduced to Sylvia, a young woman in the 1950s and 1960s, whose father is a pastor and one of the Bald Knobbers, is getting married. Sylvia has been sleeping with her uncle since she was young, and is pregnant with her uncle’s baby, so she is grateful she can hide her pregnancy thanks to her marriage. It is fairly easy to surmise that she is in fact Zeke’s mother, who is betrothed to one of her father’s old friends, and whose own religious beliefs created a fearful and traumatic environment in which Zeke is raised. Flashbacks litter the story of present day, where Zeke has an unfulfilling career as a bagger in a grocery store working between moments of his true work, which he does “for God.”

The problem with Sinner is that I never truly empathize with Zeke. Being queer and trans, as well as multiply disabled, I have faced my fair share of religious zealots From being force-prayed over as a disabled person, had hands laid on me without permission, and been told I am both disabled and LGBTQIA because my parents were sinners, I am being punished by God, and that my disability is repentance, I’m not exactly in love with religion. I don’t have sympathy for religious hypocrites. I’ve heard I was a sinner who was going to burn in hell since I first became an activist at 17 if not before. There is a lot of toxic masculinity and misogyny that overwhelms this book.

As Zeke continues to murder “sinners” there never comes a point where he becomes a multifaceted, fully fleshed character, and as the sort of protagonist, he needs to be someone the reader cares about. I really just wanted him to get killed by one of his snakes. No matter how abused he was, torturing and murdering women, while being a misogynistic religious zealot makes him one of the most disgusting protagonists in any book I’ve read.

Zeke obviously has mommy issues, and he takes all his hatred and anger out on the women he is “cleansing” of their sins, but the story never really goes anywhere. Misogyny is happening all around us, and it needs to be addressed, discussed, and explained in ways that allow us to begin deconstructing these harmful expressions and actions that manifest, as a result. The book had a great starting point, and could’ve really addressed the misogynistic nature of religion, as well as the way women have been treated historically, for ages. Unfortunately, it does neither.

Instead, we are given a history lesson on Zeke the serial killer, who uses snakes to murder his victims. We discover why he chooses snakes, why he is so hateful towards women (newsflash, his abusive mother is abusive and indoctrinates him with the same religious rhetoric she was indoctrinated with), and we follow him as he cleanses the Earth of all the sinners he sees around him. By the end, little has changed from the beginning, and with not much more to the story, things become boring by the middle of the book.

It should be noted that the story also has both casual and overt ableism sprinkled throughout the text. This ableism is so insidious most people who are not disabled themselves will recognize how prevalent and harmful it really is to disabled people. I wasn’t expecting to really see any disability references in this book, so when they appeared it was disappointing that the references were harmful.

Overall, Sinner could have been so much more than it was. If you’re looking for excessive amounts of misogyny, a thriller that is not exactly thrilling, and occasional ableist sentiment infused within, this might be the book for you. Otherwise, I would give this one a hard pass.

Sinner will be released on 5 April 2018.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Dominick
Dominick is a director/filmmaker, activist, writer, advocate, FTM transman from the Midwest who lives in New York. Follow his film career and join his weekly Twitter chat on film and disability by following #FilmDis. He received his BFA in Film Production in 2014.