The Natural Order of Things, Kevin P. Keating's debut novel, is set in a decaying Midwestern neighborhood where the only semblance of its former glory resides in the all-boys Jesuit school. While Keating is from Ohio, the 15 interweaving stories could take place in any Midwestern town that has been witness to its own decline. Through parents, teachers, students, and priests Keating reveals some of the darker elements of the human condition and how they, inevitably, affect the whole.
Keating's work has been compared to a lot of writers, and even his name hearkens back to such greats as John Keats, which certainly can't hurt his credibility. I honestly couldn't tell you if his writing resembles anything of Keats', because Keats isn't a writer I fangirl over. However, I will gladly share that from the first few pages there is a resounding Joycean quality to Keating's language and the world I had been invited to enter.
If you've ever read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the image of prostitutes scurrying about in front of the school, followed by that of the boys kneeling to pray to the school's saintly namesake will bring back fond memories. At the time, I had no idea if Keating himself was Catholic. Though I eventually discovered he, too, attended a Jesuit school, it was almost irrelevant because, regardless of his personal background, he creates scenes that are so alive on the page that they are real.
Considering the many praises and literary comparisons, I probably shouldn't have been so surprised that I found myself thinking about his prose, characters, and scenes even when I wasn't engrossed in the book itself. Like Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude, Keating's novel follows a multitude of "main" characters. At times confusing, the chapters and individual stories progress in a way that connects any missing links—and, in all honesty, I'm not sure it's even necessary to keep it all in a proper line with novels such as these.
The Natural Order of Things isn't anything I'd recommended for: the perpetual optimist, faint of heart, easily offended, or anyone else that sees the world through rose-colored glasses. But for a realist, or anyone intrigued by the darker aspects of humanity, Keating offers sex, sin, violence, and misdeeds all underpinned with the hint of salvation. The Natural Order of Things was my first taste of Kevin P. Keating, but I find myself wanting more.
Ashley Houk is an Online Editorial Assistant for Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. When she’s not reviewing books and producing online content for Ogden, she’s probably still reading and vigorously scribbling poems, or blog posts of her own. Find her on WordPress and Tumblr.