Stranger Within by Lynn Bentley is a compelling novel that can easily be read in a few sittings. However, digesting the content will certainly take much longer as this pressure packed story raises serious questions about morality, society, justice, spirituality and individuality.
The story opens with the narrator reading a Boston Globe article about the death of his boss. He is not overly shocked as this compelling yet flawed individual had a dark past and loved living on the edge. Outwardly, he doesn’t become overcome with grief. At the funeral the young man doesn’t show remorse as he is actually more overcome with the responsibility thrust on him than with grief. The funeral is followed by more everyday events and an ill-fated growing friendship with a former love interest and an ex-CIA Officer close to his boss. Somehow the forces of nature and mankind conspire to work on him in a manner that causes a sudden outburst of violence that shatters his world.
The second half of Stranger Within follows him as he experiences the legal system for the first time. He finds that it’s not nearly as cut and dried as he might have imagined. Not only are the facts of the case brought out, but what seem like completely unrelated events including the funeral are presented to “prove” points about moral character. He soon finds himself abandoned by friends and trapped in a web of chance events magnified by his own failure to behave as expected by society.
He comes across as being distanced or “alienated” from general society and this is exactly why the novel was titled, Stranger Within. He seems cut off from normal feelings, mostly due to his desire to live honestly without pretense. He doesn’t want to display false emotions just because they are expected even though, in hindsight, he realizes this is precisely what condemns him the most.
The main character’s encounters with an evangelical fellow prisoner and the prison chaplain provide powerful scenes. He doesn’t find a need to believe in God but can’t convince these characters. As the chaplain works to convince him of the need to find God and forgiveness, this conflicted soul becomes more and more irritated until he becomes irrational.
The book will strike a cord with many readers from older teens on up. It’s guaranteed to stimulate lots of soul searching and controversy. Look no further for a powerful novel that explores the search to overcome the absurdities of life.