I. Basic Situation
The Brethren is an entertaining book with a suspenseful plot and intentionally misleading details that add to its overall feeling of tense excitement and engaging uncertainty. It has captivating details that keep the reader continually predicting what will happen next. Furthermore, The Brethren is a compelling book because of its overall story line, which involves three felons at a minimum-security federal prison and their attempts at extorting money from rich men who inadvertently fueled their corrupt scheme by responding to a personals ad in the back of a gay magazine.
The story’s setting is at Trumble Federal Prison where ex-judges Joy Roy Spicer (a former Justice of Peace in Mississippi), Finn Yarber (a former Chief Justice in the California Supreme Court), and Hatlee Beech (a former federal judge in East Texas), were serving time for embezzlement of Bingo profits at a nursing home, tax evasion, and vehicular manslaughter through drunken driving, respectively. Trumble, as considered by the inmates there, was a camp of sorts because it had “no fences around the grounds, no razor wire, no watchtowers, and no guards with rifles waiting to nail escapees.” The prisoners who were fortunate enough to be sent to Trumble enjoyed ample amounts of free time. As a result of this lack of excitement, Spicer, Yarber, and Beech formed the Brethren, a prison judicial system of sorts that tried and settled petty arguments between the prisoners. As time passed however, and as the desire for earning money for when the Brethren was released increased, they devised an immorally brilliant plan in which they would place a personals ad reading “SWM in 20’s seeking older gentleman in 40’s or 50’s to pen pal with,” in the back of a discreet gay magazine. About 20 innocent and unsuspecting men responded to this simple ad.
As the plot progresses, the Brethren begin to initiate romantic contact with these men, using the names of either Ricky or Percy. After the correspondence with particular men became serious enough and the soon-to-be extortionists had discovered the proper details (if they had a wife and money), the Brethren sent a letter stating their true identities and demanding $100,000 in “hush” money so that the prominent figure’s hidden homosexuality would remain a secret. This scam became thoroughly successful and they continued to collect 100’s of thousands of dollars in extorted money from men who would seemingly do anything to protect their unacceptable sudden interest in younger men. However, a dangerous problem arose when the con men unknowingly snared possibly the most well known figure at that time, the newest presidential candidate Aaron Lake. However, this problem is resolved as FBI agents are hired, secret agents are placed inside Trumble as transfers, and the con men are pardoned in exchange for them never releasing Lake’s lapse in judgement.
The Brethren is written in third person omniscient point of view, allowing the writer to mention the thoughts and feelings of any character, and to insert editorial comments. This is proven throughout the story as the author consistently uses grammatical language including they, he, and she. Examples of third person are shown in this excerpt, “After he read the letter, he handed it to Finn Yarber, who was in the process of writing another one as poor Percy. They were working in the small conference room in the corner of the law library, their table littered with files and mail and a pretty assortment of soft pastel correspondence cards. Spicer was outside, at his table, guarding the door and studying his point spreads.” Furthermore, The Brethren’s genre is that of a dramatic thriller. The author used suspense and other uncertain details to characterize the story as such.
The complication in The Brethren is not completely revealed until the Brethren discover that Al Konyers, the alias that Lake used in his correspondence, was actually Aaron Lake, the man who had just announced his candidacy for president during the state primaries. That is the point at which the Brethren realize that this was the type of man they had created, and hatched, the extortion plan for in the first place. He had everything to lose, he was constantly in the public eye, and most importantly, he would be willing to pay anything to keep his mistake of potentially exposing his possibility of being homosexual by pen pal-ing with a young man, a secret. Because Aaron Lake was struggling with the Brethren to keep his secret from the public, and therefore the voters, this complication can be defined as person vs. person.
The protagonist in The Brethren was Aaron Lake. Although he was not introduced until later in the story, he quickly became the main character as the content of the book shifted solely to the subject of his protection from the Brethren, and the political and social harm they could bring to him and his chances of becoming President. In the conflict, the Brethren were contin-ually plotting against Lake, and his efforts at keeping questions about his sexuality out of the spotlight, causing them to be labeled as the antagonists in this story. In addition, Aaron Lake was also a dynamic character in The Brethren. Before you realize that he was questionably homosexual (which he turned out not to be), Lake was portrayed as a perfect gentleman. He had never been married, and hence never divorced, he didn’t drink alcohol, he didn’t smoke anything, he didn’t gamble, and he didn’t stay up past 10 PM. However, once the reader is
informed of Lake’s initial correspondence with Ricky, his persona is dramatically different. He
becomes an “unusual” of sorts, and he becomes far from the flawless man who announced his
candidacy for President just weeks earlier. Conversely, however, a static character in The Brethren, would be a member of the group after which the book is named. Joy Roy Spicer, the original mastermind and designer behind the scheme, always remained a heartless, selfish man who would prospectively do anything to make money. He was depicted as the most corrupt of the three judges who made up the Brethren, and Spicer was always the other two’s leader.
The theme of The Brethren is not explicitly stated, rather it is understood through a personal perception of the plot and the actions of the characters. The underlying meaning of the story, or a significant statement that it is making about society and human nature in general, can be interpreted as a warning against corruption. Corruption, as it did in the story, has the potential to ruin someone’s life, and with it the lives of their families and friends. Everyone is not always as lucky as Mr. Lake was, however. Rather than having the luxury of literally paying for their actions, most people are forced to live with them and their consequences. Therefore, everyone should be careful and deliberate in their decision-making processes, knowing all of the potential consequences of the actions they choose to make, before they make them.
V. Literary Elements
The tone that the author of The Brethren is trying to convey is one that full of serious actions and consequential mistakes. Therefore, the author, in a matter-of-fact way, is trying to
relay the fact that everything people do has consequences, good or bad. Examples of this serious
and straightforward tone includes how the author does not use any flowery language or overly expressive phrases. However, The Brethren’s irony is not as straightforward as its tone. While most of The Brethren’s irony is dramatic, there is also sarcastic irony that adds a sometimes-needed lightheartedness to otherwise stressful situations. For example, when Aaron Lake realizes that his innocent response to the personals ad could possibly cost him the Presidency, he says, “With the way things look, these guys (referring to the Brethren) could take over for the CIA because they’ve been more successful at digging up information about me than those Feds ever could be.” Moreover, an additional literary element that the author of The Brethren utilized was foreshadowing. For instance, it was known that the Brethren would receive pardons from their crimes when they requested them in exchange for never mentioning Aaron Lake to anyone. This is true because the author had made it clear earlier in the story that Lake and his campaign partners would do anything to keep the secret. Also, suspense was a contributing literary element in The Brethren. It was used consistently by the author to make the story interesting and tense, which kept the attention of the reader. Examples of this include how the author never really explains who Al Konyers, Aaron Lake’s alias, is until the reader finds out for themselves when he sneaks out of his house and goes to a post office to visit a secret mailbox. During this event, however, the author never reveals what exactly Aaron Lake is retrieving from his mailbox. However, it is eventually learned that Lake had been corresponding with Ricky when the CIA tracks his mail and reads it.
The climax of The Brethren was an extremely eventful one that seemingly completely changed the story’s ending. The climax came just as the Brethren figured out that Al Konyers
was actually Aaron Lake, the newest candidate for President. Up until that point, the reader was only aware of everything good about Aaron Lake. It was at this moment where the reader was introduced to a new side of Aaron Lake, and his new obstacle that would have to be faced and overcome if he wanted to be elected President.
“Long after they should’ve eaten dinner, and long after the library should’ve been closed, the Brethren remained locked in their little room, saying little avoiding eye contact with one another, each staring at the walls, deep in thought. The third letter stopped them cold. They’d read it over and over, one by one, collectively, in silence, in unisonHandwritten in ink, it was dated April 18, at 1:20 A.M., and addressed to a woman named Carol. It was signed by Aaron Lake, and it explained what a great success the night’s debate had been. The handwriting was identical to that on the terse note Al had sent Rickythey were now almost certain that (a) the laptop letter was a fake, with the name “Al” signed by someone who was quite good at forging; (b) the notes to Ricky and Carol were handwritten by Aaron Lake; and (c) the one to Carol had obviously been sent to them by mistake. Above all, Al Konyers was really Aaron Lake. Their little scam had snared the most famous politician in the country.”
Until this exciting point, the reader was completely unaware that Al Konyers and Aaron Lake was the same person. This realization was an unexpected surprise, and after it, the end of the story could be somewhat conclusively predicted.
The Brethren was an extremely entertaining and thought provoking story. It was both enter-
taining and thought provoking because of its extensive use of suspense. It is definitely a recom-mendable book because of the addiction it causes among its readers. The Brethren exudes a strong and serious tone, it retains a since of cheer even in its most serious situations, it induces its readers to search for the answers through foreshadowing, and, most importantly, it keeps the reader reading because of its unwavering suspense.
The Brethren’s mood is significantly related to its tone. The mood, like the tone, can be interpreted as consequentially strong and undeviatingly solemn. However, it is not discounted as being too somber or grave because of the occasional sarcastic ironical phrases that are introduced to the story line at critical points, relieving any stresses or misgivings. The mood, as do the other literary elements of The Brethren, contributes to its overall success and effectiveness of illus-trating the theme of the story at its fullest potential to the reader.
The Brethren: Critical Analysis
I. Basic Situation