A Better Man


My arm instinctively reached for it when I saw Louise Penny’s new book at the library. My brain said Not now Christine. You have a lot of reading to do. Books, piled on your desk. I paused for a millisecond but then added it to my stack. I couldn’t help myself. It was like anticipating a weekend visiting old friends who would give me something to think about.

And that’s pretty much how I spent my weekend. I pushed everything aside and visited Three Pines. And my visit did not disappoint.

This time, Penny gave me a new archetype, a river as emotion. And a new thought to ponder, from the classic Moby Dick , All truth with malice In it.

In this story Penny weaves together a beautiful tapestry of consideration about the effects of social media, the mystery of hostility it encourages, the heart wrenching realities of domestic violence against women and the challenge of controlling our speech and emotion.

When I read the quote All truth with malice in it I was immediately reminded of the New Testament instruction to Speak the truth in love. Somehow Penny captured the contrast in these two ideas, challenging me to think about how I do that in my relationships.

Because, while her well-crafted mystery shows a dramatic consequence of emotion out of control, her more subtle use of archetype and symbolism reminds me that the root cause of murder (whether the taking of physical life, or the murder of reputation, relationship, goodwill) is fear.

So I pause, as I always do when I read her books. I ponder how much fear has influenced my decisions. How much am I bringing malice to the truths I choose to speak and how much am I speaking the truth in love. I agree with her on this point. When I reflect on the causes of my actions, I see how much is motivated by fear. Truth with malice is motivated by fear. Speaking the truth in love is motivated by belonging, acceptance and trust.

She challenges me with her three questions. The concept is not new to me. I’ve heard them before. Is it true, is it kind, does it need to be said? Always. Because our words have power. All words. Power to build and create and power to destroy. And our words are often formed from our emotions, whether we realize it or not. And when those emotions lose control, our words can be murderous.

Another nod of thanks to Louise Penny for sharing her deft genius at bringing social issues into the realm of the spiritual.

I had just one issue as I was reading this story. I was sad that I didn’t know more about the character of Isabel Lacoste. Yes, I thought, she was part of the trio, but sort of a less visible part. Kind of a shadow to Gamache and Beauvoir. Like women are in a patriarchal world. Why would Penny let that be true? But now, well, I guess she thought of that too.