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- Vincent de Paul’s picaresque, Twisted Times – Son of Man
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Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy writes that Vincent de Paul’s novel, Twisted Times, shows how society alters people’s dreams by making them eat forbidden fruits
We live in perilous times, everyone is bad and you are not expected to be otherwise. Most often, we find that we are compelled by society to become the kind of persons we are. This is the story of Kennedy Mainas alias Son of Man who leaves home to pursue a university education (against the wish of his foster father who would rather have Ken join his uncle in business). Faced with the grim life of the university and left without money to survive in the university, he soon joins a notorious gang (Mavis) of grave robbers cum criminals until he gets arrested after one of the nightly operations. The Kenyan police is a corrupt one and the Ken is let off the hook as his release is arranged and records of crime withdrawn.
Ken leaves the police cell a free man and vows to desist from a life of crime henceforth. He resigns from the gang, which is not too happy to let him go, goes on to finish university with good grades, and land himself a good job only to be blackmailed into resigning as a result of his uncompromising and honest nature. He takes up an appointment much later as an intelligence officer but resigns again due to threat of death and absconds to Isreal from where he picks up life as a modern Don Juan until he gets into trouble and returns to Kenya. Back in Kenya, he makes to atone for his misdeeds and seeks God via the catholic faith.
But is Ken now a changed man? Will his past continue to hunt him or not? And how long can he remain faithful till he is again lured away by the things of the world? This, I shall only tell you when you have read the book yourself, haha!
I find the novel quite ambitious; achieving a sustained storyline of over four hundred pages is not as easy as gulping down a plate of beans, and the writer deserves kudos for making that happen. I love the linguistic freshness which comes with the novel. Apart from the diction, much attention was paid to sentence and paragraph constructions making them throw quick blasts of suspense at the unsuspecting reader. Even though the novel is not devoid of grammatical inconsistencies, they are minimal and do not obstruct understanding.
I also cherish the idea of setting the story in three continents (Kenya in Africa, Isreal in Asia, and the USA in America). I noted the admixture of the first and third person narrative point of view; for by placing both side by side, one can clearly see the merits and demerits of both styles.
However, I do have my reservations regarding the story. While I hold no objection to making the story a picaresque (since it is necessary for sustaining the story if it is in series), I am however not happy that the story is almost episodic. We followed the life of Ken Mainas from birth to adulthood yet he seems to be the only link tying the story together. The interconnectedness of the storyline is quite loose and characters seem to appear and efface only when the author has a need for them. More so, character and characterisation were much more controlled than even the story itself. The author even as a ‘god’ in the story went too far by forcefully bending characters to suit his whims and caprices. For instance, I find it difficult to understand how Ken could choose education over joining his uncle in his shady business only to himself become a criminal on getting to the university; and it is at this time that we get to know he is not a saint himself for he has a past of juvenile delinquency. This is but an example among several others.
To talk about the story itself, I think I saw too many dimensions of Kennedy and it is tiring. In the beginning, I found him as one who has refused to allow his dreams be subdued by an overbearing parent and hoped that he succeeds to prove his father wrong. Then he becomes a criminal and I see him as someone who finds himself cornered by society and chooses the options made available to him. Next, he becomes an anti corruption crusader and he goes down for it (this part marks the end of the sociological part of the novel as the writers moves into romance). The next is seeing Ken graduate from a lover boy into a Kenyan Casanova and later the meek parishioner fighting against the temptation of the flesh. These many dimensions give the story an uneasy digestion, and make it difficult to maintain suspense which ought to be the hallmark of a good romance novel. It began to appear as if the author is bent on packaging too many stories into one book. We may argue that the story is incomplete (since it is the first book of the complete story) yet I say that it is lacking in a kind of wholeness that should attend a story of its kind. The author ought to know that while great heroes and dangerous villains embellish a story, they do not make a good story!
I have no issues with the romance parts for there does the story thrive even though I think it wrong the way the author exploited the characters to suit his purpose. I find it quite difficult to see Susan as a woman easily swept off her feet (even if drunk!) as to engage in a one night stand without an atom of remorse. Making out that the three Israeli triplets were virgins yet have no issues with flinging off their pants to bed Ken seem too much of a surreal fantasy.
Finally, this novel is but a first major effort and no one should expect it to break the record of being the best novel since the inception of writing. As a sociological novel, we come to see the many dimensions society takes to frustrate the man of dreams and make us unable to hold on to our truth in a deceitful and crime filled world. As a romance novel, we are fed with exciting tales of love and disappointment. Vincent de Paul is a good tree with promising fruits; his first effort proves this truth. He is sure to get better and if there are any writers one ought to be on the lookout for in Africa, I would say Vincent de Paul should be top on the list. I shall endeavour to get the second book, for I am curious to know what Kennedy Maina’s next engagement(s) would be; and perhaps see the end of the villains.
© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2019