Review by Frank Plowright
Pride of the Decent Man is a dramatic tearjerker, thoughtful, powerful and tragic, with a real kick to the stomach. It explores the consequences of upbringing, and considers if a life can be turned around.
His surname only supplied on the back cover, Andy Peters bears no relation to UK TV presenter Andi Peters. He’s raised by an abusive father in a remote small town, and finds companionship he’s otherwise lacking in his friend Whitey, who’s a complete car crash of a human being. Andy starts a journal when young, and continues to write throughout his life. This begins as a means of recording his day, although he notes when starting that he wants to be a writer, but it evolves into his primary means of expression, as he finds it simpler to collect his thoughts if he’s written them down. Pride of the Decent Man begins with an adult Andy reading what his younger self wrote, and from there we learn of Andy’s current life and the events that led to that life.
It’s not been fulfilling, to say the least. Mistakes have been made, always through loyalty to Whitey, yet Andy’s paid the price. This isn’t a case of an abusive father shaping his life, as he’s shed that and attempted to make something of himself, but circumstances conspire to pull away the rug. A third person has an impact, Jess, Andy’s teenage girlfriend, there when things begin to go wrong, and a spectral presence thereafter.
T.J. Kirsch proves himself a writer with some emotional depth, but the story is very much carried by his equally impressive art. Andy is a fundamentally decent guy who’s been involved in mistakes and so carries the world on his shoulders. Kirsch conveys this visually with superb storytelling skills. We know what Andy’s thinking, and the sorrow he keeps suppressed as it’s all there in the pictures. His environment is also all there, the beauty of nature surrounding a dull enclave of humanity where to remain is to stultify.
It may seem in places that a sentimentality could derail Pride of the Decent Man, but Kirsch is well aware of that, and another childhood experience ensures an unpredictable ending. This is a slim, but very affecting story that has wide audience appeal. It’s to be hoped that audience is reached.