Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Interview with Sigmund Brouwer, Author of 'The Canary List'

The Canary List: A Novel
Some of you, some very few of you, may remember that many moons ago I produced a review of Sigmund Brouwer's Broken Angel.   That review was long and came across as mostly negative, but in reality it's only books I thoroughly enjoy that get such an extensive treatment.   We hurt the ones we love. Brouwer was such a nice guy after I wrote that review, and the book was so well-paced and generally likeable, that when an e-mail from a publicist landed in my mailbox advertising his new novel and offering an interview, I thought, "Why not?"

Why not, indeed? Brouwer's latest offering is The Canary List. As I looked over the review copy in preparation for the interview, I thought perhaps I was going to regret this, as Brouwer had certainly chosen a hot button for the premise of his latest and even wrapped a conspiracy theory around it, but our conversation put my mind at ease.

The Canary List is built around the oft-repeated quote of Fr. Gabriele Amorth suggesting that satanic conspiracy lies behind the child abuse scandals.   In The Canary List, Brouwer has decided to run with that, depicting a satanist cabal in the heart of the Vatican complete with all the '80s Satanic Panic trappings--Black Masses, kidnapped children, D&D games, all of it.

Some minor confusion preceded the interview, which had to take place over the phone when both of us had to make it hasty, but though my journalism skillz are sub-L33t, I hope Mr. Brouwer will agree that I caught the essence of what he said even if, alas, I caught only a few exact quotes.  So these are paraphrases.  Here we go:

D.G.D.:  Can you briefly describe the premise of your novel?

Brouwer:  The premise is is mainly based on a comment the "chief exorcist" made in the London Times (though I realize that is a title given him by the media, that the Vatican does not really have a chief exorcist exactly) . . . intrigued that someone that high would blame troubles in the Catholic Church on demon possession, I decided to explore, as a novelist, the nature of demons, and I thought about how demons appeared in scripture, particularly in the gospels.

D.G.D.:  Of course, you presumably realize I write a Catholic blog, so could you describe your own relations with or opinions of the Catholic Church?  And could you describe your religious background?
Brouwer:  Certainly.  My denominational background is Christian Reformed Church--Calvinism at its finest.  My view of the Catholic Church is one of admiration.  The Catholic Church has so much going for it, deeply rooted in both faith and intellect.  The Catholic Church grapples with matters of science and astronomy, and I appreciate the advances that Catholics have made in areas of astronomy, in the Big Bang Theory, and so forth.

Some critics have suggested that this book perhaps portrays the Catholic Church negatively.  However, I would say the negative part is a minor part of a whole.  As a character in the novel puts it, the negative part is like a fire burning in a great and glorous mansion, but people are so focused on the fire that they forget to look at the mansion.

D.G.D.:  I remember when I read Broken Angel I was under the impression, perhaps wrongly, that it took some digs at the Catholic Church. In particular, I was interested in the Big Brother-like religious leader who at least in passing seemed to be compared to the pope, and to the diabolical way they put drugs in the communion wafers to keep people addicted to church--

Brouwer: That wasn't intentional. I was writing as an Evangelical, but I could see how someone comng at it from a Catholic perspective could see that. I was really thinking of the church I grew up in and its practices . . . had I thought about the connections with the Catholic Church, such as in the use of the term "communion wafer," I wouldn't have put it in there--

D.G.D.: Actually, I wanted to see that drugs-in-the-communion idea developed further.

Brouwer: I was really thinking of it as something like, you know, purple Kool-Aid. I was thinking about Evangelical Churches that put so much faith in a single charismatic leader. Broken Angel criticizes large Evangelical mega-churches. My main gripe with American politics is the way it tends to gather people under a single banner and insist that they all believe exactly the same way. That's what I was going for.

D.G.D.: Back to The Canary List, I have to be more vague than I want because you tell me it could be a spoiler if I were too specific, but I'd like to know if the "Canary List" of your title is your own invention or perhaps an idea you came across in your research.

Brouwer: That's entirely my own invention. . . . I was researching some of, you know, the bad popes, and I thought to myself that if I were Satan, I would definitely want to get into the inner circle of the most powerful faith-based organization the world has ever known, which is the Catholic Church, and the Canary List is based on that.

D.G.D.: Okay. I promised you a hardball question, so here it is.

Brouwer: Okay.

D.G.D.: Alright, issues of corruption and abuse in the Catholic Church are clearly complex, and different commentators have interpreted the situation in different ways and placed blame in a number of places . . . do you think it is helpful to explain the situation with a Satanist conspiracy, or could someone suggest that your're taking advantange of the situation to sell a book?

Brouwer: Someone could--

D.G.D.: I wouldn't, really, but I wanted to ask it anyway--

Brouwer: From my perspective . . . when I read this statement that came from the chief exorcist, he was basically ignored. I wanted as a novelist to explore the subject. The final answer to that question is I think at the end of the book. . . . I hope you find tha tth enovel is a very balanced argument for and against demon possession. Some readers have even expressed disappointment that I didn't tell them what to believe at the end of the book. Depictions of demon possession in The Canary List are very restrained. I wanted to get away from the more crazy head-twisting stuff.

Right about there, we lost our connection, so that wraps it up.
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