Bewildering Stories discusses
Creepy Brother Jacinto
“Brother Jacinto’s Mission” appears in issue 660.
[Ada Fetters] I like the descriptions that pop out at the reader: pumpernickel escaping from its bag, ankle hairs, etc. The dialogue sounds casual but moves the story briskly forward.
[Don Webb] The bag of pumpernickel bread is a deft stroke of comedy. And Toby plucks hair on his ankles to stay awake? How can he do that and drive, too? Usually, when readers have to stop and think, they’re thrown out of the story. On the contrary, these odd details suck the readers all the more deeply into it.
[Ada F.] Best of all, this sounds like a common experience but there is a deeper, creepier point to it. Brother Jacinto isn’t just a holy-roller, he is a kind of embodiment of the temptation to give up and give in. This isn’t evil in itself, but Cole captures the way this line of thinking is gently and constantly persuasive.
Toby is fleeing across the lonely desert, running to a place where he has purpose, but though he moves on from the diner before Jacinto can work on him too much, what Jacinto embodies will always be there. The fact that Jacinto “met a manager of a small radio station in Vermont. I might be following right behind you, at least my mission. Late at night, when you need a break from your studies, give the radio dial a spin and keep listening.” That’s what did it for me.
No no, this story doesn’t end in a spectacular-action way; it reveals the subtly creepy undercurrent for what it is.
[Don W.] We understand Toby, but Brother Jacinto harder to get a handle on. Despite his jovial manner, he is, as you say, creepy, because he is both predator and scavenger.
Toby is vulnerable because he’s suffered a big loss and is physically exhausted. But his license plate motto keeps him going. He’s a refutation of nihilism.
The story is one that’s liable to wake people up at night, thinking of the implications. Brother Jacinto says, “I’m saying: if you’ve been told that this is your last rodeo, that nothing is going to end your suffering, who are we to disagree with a competent medical authority?” Toby’s motto could also be “Live free and die.” It applies to martyrs and to physician-assisted suicide.
[Ada F.] On the one hand, the potential for abuse is especially unsettling, because it would be an abuse that no one could take back. On the other hand, insisting that a person be punished for living by living is a cruel irony.
This story captures something bigger — the assisted-suicide issue — but it also captures something usually buried in the human psyche. For many people who are healthy of body, a premature slide toward demise can be seductive, like Jacinto’s voice over the radio, especially when they are alone at 2:00 a.m. The story points not only at a relevant overarching issue but also at something lurking within the human mind... something with teeth.
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