Small Treasons refuses to give us our monsters

Small Treasons
Mark Powell
Literary Fiction
Small Treasons
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From the outside looking in, there was no reason to be worried. Tess Maynard lives with a loving husband, with three young children, and they’re living the suburban dream. But her family has started to notice that something’s off. They keep insisting that she’s depressed, but Tess doesn’t know how to explain that what’s driving her isn’t depression, but obsession.

All over the news is beheadings, bombings, and terrorist plots. How could Tess do anything else, but witness the passing of the world?

Her husband, John Maynard, is also struggling even if he’s less likely to admit it. In the past he was part of the War on Terror, a contractor who would help interrogate people suspected of terrorism. All of that should be dead and buried, but there are investigations happening, people sifting through the ruins of the past. People who won’t understand what it was like back then.

The small steps they make to fix their marriage are undermined by the small treasons of their past and of their present. How long can people live like this before it crumbles?

It’s hard for me to decide whether or not I liked this book. It was well-written and compelling. I read it quickly, but I don’t think this is a book that we’re supposed to like/dislike. What matters is that we’ve read it.

The characters in Small Treasons remind me of ramshackle houses that look like they’re on the verge of falling down. They’re an abandoned neighbourhood that could fix everything if they were able to stand together, but instead they’re isolating themselves. They isolate themselves and then feel that it’s someone else’s fault.

Isolation and belonging are the key themes at the heart of the world. The isolation of a person, a country, a religion, an ideal… we purposefully isolate ourselves in so many tiny ways each and every way.

The other key theme in Small Treasons is radicalization. The radicalization of a person doesn’t always look like a terrorist boot camp. Sometimes it comes from a patriotic person who wants to help his country, other times from someone who just wants to help their family.

These themes weave themselves together. Every character searches for belonging and they’re searching for it in different ways. Some cling to ideologies, some cling to people, and others find belonging through traumatic experiences. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and as they walk those paths, they learn more about what it is to be human.

Where Powell really shines is by not letting Small Treasons have any kind of hero you can cling to. There are no heroes to be beacons for us to follow and conversely, there are no villains for us to hate. Even a person who is a step away from being a terrorist remains human.

It may be that they stay a despicable human in many ways, but Powell doesn’t take the easy way out and let him be a monster.

There’s a weariness to the novel that comes out in the writing, a purposeful weariness that helps to drive home the ennui of the characters within the book. There are echoes of that same weariness within every character which is part of what makes Small Treasons so special.

A heart-breaking and unsettling look at the human condition that will stay with you long after you close the book.

Small Treasons

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