When I was about nine or ten, our teachers back at the Catholic school I was studying in thought it would be a great idea to subject our little minds to the film “The Silent Scream“. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a very popular film among pro-life circles, and shows what appears to be a fetus making outcries of pain and discomfort.
Of course, the whole bunch of us were scared beyond our wits. Imagine being a 10-year-old and being shown what actually went on inside a girl’s innards. Now imagine those innards being shown to you in all its mutilated, bloody gory. It was enough to make all of us staunchly against abortion.
Even now, with me being such an ardent supporter of the Reproductive Health Bill currently in Congress, abortion is something I cannot support. Maybe in extreme cases like rape and incest, but that’s a maybe.
Which is why you’d think that a book as staunchly against abortion as “Prolifers: A Novel” would be something I wouldn’t be averse to. You (yes, you) and I both thought wrong.
“Prolifers: A Novel” tells the story of Mickey William O’Malley, a pro-life activist who is
finding himself being hemmed in by a society that is revealing itself to be more and more for abortion. The Crisis Pregnancy Center he is running with fellow volunteers Dolores and Julie is running out of funds and support among the other pro-life organizations in their town. The protests he organizes against the abortion clinic are also being curtailed, with the local judge imposing restriction after restriction on what he can and cannot do.
And it’s not just those that are for abortion that Mickey has to worry about. As it begins to look bleaker and bleaker for the pro-life movement, a renegade group of activists threaten to take violent action against the clinic, and Mickey fears what effect this will have on the already fractured movement.
In the midst of all these events is Sadie Summers, a young woman about to have her second abortion. When her procedure ends up being a disaster, she descends into a depression that will lead to an action that will change the lives of Mickey and everyone around him.
I will be the first to admit that it’s easy to be biased against this novel. Right from the bat, the author expresses his dissatisfaction at the Reproductive Health Bill, labeling it as “coercive government population control”. It would be so easy to just point out one’s disagreements with O’Malley’s beliefs and have this review descend into an Internet screaming match.
Fortunately, there so much more to rail against in this novel that supposedly shows what it really is like to be part of the pro-life movement. So, so much more, that I don’t even know where to begin.
How about the fact that all the characters are caricatures and stereotypes? Most of its characters are painted with such broad strokes that it’s hard to see them as anything more than just caricatures. The characters are so predictably characterized; they end up looking more like cartoons rather than actual points of view.
Not only does our hero, Mickey William O’Malley, have a name so Irish you could get drunk off of it, he also has the red hair to boot. If he was quick to anger we would have yet ANOTHER stereotype filled out. His characterization as an idealistic, uncompromising pro-life activist comes off as more grating and condescending rather than inspiring. A revelation about his character in the latter parts of the book comes a little too late, and there is no organic build-up to it in the rest of the novel for it to pass as believable.
The villains in this piece are predictably evil, because those who support abortion are clearly soulless and do not have complicated reasons for their support. The judge who keeps on ruling against the pro-lifers is an unhygienic war veteran who likes presiding over his cases naked under his robes. The bishop who takes a moderate stance on abortion is a pedophile who takes part in sex tourism in Thailand. If he had revealed that the abortionist had a “666” stamped on his forehead I wouldn’t have been surprised.
In the book’s world, no one who is for abortion can possibly be a good person – either they are perverted, gullible, or ignorant. There is no nuance to their characterizations that it feels like one is reading passages from a teenage girl’s revenge fantasy rather than a novel.
These paper thin characterizations do nothing for the cause or the message that O’Malley is championing. Nobody likes a condescending Ms. Goody Two Shoes, and Mickey and his band of pro-lifers certainly come off as condescending and then some. The book’s villains hardly seem worth ones contempt since they are too cartoonish to be believable.
Among the novel’s black and white characters, it is only Mickey’s partner Dolores that comes off as sporting a shade of gray. As someone who joined the pro-life movement because of the abortion she had years before, her story would have been much more complicated and interesting. But other than a cursory look at how she came to be part of the movement, Dolores often plays either second fiddle to Mickey or as a mouthpiece for the pro-life agenda.
There is also the unfortunate fact that the book seems to have made it all the way to the printing press without having gone through an editor. The work is missing commas and periods in several places. If it’s not that, it’s needlessly capitalizing letters that have no business being capitalized.
The book also has a little problem with finding the flow of its story. For instance, the threat posed by a renegade group of pro-lifers called the Warriors of God is revealed early on in the book, but it is a thread that is practically forgotten until about the last quarter of the book, where it is trundled out to provide an admittedly dramatic conclusion. Most of the time, the plot’s movement is sacrificed for an opportunity for the characters to spout pro-life beliefs, often to the detriment of the story.
As it is, it’s hard to think that this book will appeal to anybody else but the crowd that has already chosen the pro-life side in the reproductive health debate. If O’ Malley’s intention was to preach to the choir, then he has certainly succeeded. But as to telling a story that will help the other side see what it looks like from your side of the fence? This is hardly the work that will do it.