Leo Tolstoy once said “All happy families are alike, but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion”, which explains why in literature, most family-centered books are portrayed as dysfunctional. While I was rather impressed with the beginning of Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Patria Haley, and the promise of a novel about a family coming together, I was ultimately left disappointed by the book.
The premise of the novel is this: in the Reynolds family, Angela has just reunited with Reese, and is battling her emotions between hurt and trying to forgive. Sylvia is struggling against a 20-year old nightmare that suggests the unthinkable. And Herbert, their dad, was just accused of indecent behavior towards a minor.
Despite the multiple plots, the story flowed well and naturally. I felt that Patricia Haley painted a realistic picture of an extended family (including cousins), warts and all. And in the end, with the charges against Herbert found to be false, and Angela and her husband on their way to true reconciliation, most of the plots were tied up satisfactorily. Except one.
(Spoiler Alert) At the end of the book, Sylvia finds out that her nightmares stem from her cousin Tony’s molestation of her when she was five. In fact, she is not the only victim, as her other cousin, Deon, was also molested and in fact, driven to suicide by the experience. However, at the end of the book, when she and her cousin Denise plan to “expose” Tony, all the family members tell her to “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
With reasons couched in the terminology of forgiveness, Patricia Haley paints an enticing picture of why Tony should not be reported, or his fiancée even told of what’s going on, and the extract below, I think, sums up the real reason for wanting to smooth over the incidents:
“God has brought this family through a lot of tragedy this year and we’re only two days into April. We have to be thankful and humble. Some battles we don’t choose, but we have to fight them. Some fights we create.”
“What are you saying, that I’m starting an unnecessary battle with Tony?"
To me, Tony did not seem to have repented or changed throughout the novel, and with his future marriage, it’s highly likely that he will be in a position where he is able to continue to abuse children. Furthermore, Patricia Haley has already vividly shown us that abuse is as good as murder, with her cousin Deon being driven to suicide by the thought of it.
That’s why, my overall impression of the book is that it condones child abuse, which I’m sure is not the author’s intention. However, when there are exchanges like the one below, it seems hard not to feel that the author would prefer that charges were not pressed and the fiancée not told about what happened.
“Isn’t it too late to press charges?”
“Probably not. Normally the statue of limitations is seven years, but in cases like this, the clock begins when the victim knows or remembers the crime occurred. If I had my way, sexually violating or physically abusing a child would be treated just like murder with no statute of limitations. If you abuse someone at eighteen, they would arrest you at eighty, pull you out of the retirement home kicking and screaming if they have to. I’d love to nail a bunch of perverts to the wall”
“Sylvia, I don’t understand you sometimes.”
To end, let me just paint an alternate scenario for you. Bearing in mind that in God’s eyes, even the smallest sin is the same as murder, think about this scenario. If you found out that twenty years ago, a family member of yours murdered someone (it doesn’t have to be another family member like in the book), would you advocate to “let sleeping dogs lie”, or would you turn him in to the police, seeing as how he has not changed in character? If you would turn him in, why wouldn’t you do the same for Tony?