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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
If, like me, you’re of Polish descent, with parents or grandparents who immigrated to the US, Canada or Australia after World War 2, you will most likely relate to James Sniechowski’s family in Worship of Hollow Gods. The author’s family settled in Detroit and brought into their new lives, as all immigrants do, their traditions, religious beliefs and established attitudes toward the opposite sex, along with their love of whisky. But, as a 9-year-old child, James observed that his parents “didn’t know what to do or how to be with each other, and they certainly didn’t know what to do with me, so we all lived in a vague, gauzy estrangement.”
Through rich descriptions and realistic dialogue, the author explores this estrangement, not only between his parents, but between his grandmother and the rest of the family, along with his uncles and their wives, as they meet for their weekly poker and pinochle nights. Between beers and whisky, the men played noisily at a basement table and the women played “hi-low” upstairs. James, often confused by the adult behaviours and his own growing awareness of female charms, feels invisible between wanting to please his stern father and not really knowing whether he should join the men downstairs or stay upstairs with the women. On this one traumatic night of card playing, as James tries to understand how and why his uncles and their wives are each so different from each other, he concludes that “…their practiced and honed rituals of conversation and weekly card playing gave the impression of connection. But none of them were true friends. They were family. If it hadn’t been for their blood-bond, if they’d somehow met as strangers, the likelihood of their becoming close would have been low.”
With single statements like that one (and the earlier one above), throughout the story the author continually broadens the audience for Worship of Hollow Gods. This is no longer a story only for those of Polish descent. It is for all families, regardless of race, culture and religion. There are few of us who haven’t felt invisible as a youngster in the midst of adult family members, who haven’t questioned what family love means when all members are arguing, bickering, calling each other names and hiding their real selves from each other. And for those readers who have been raised Catholic and attended schools where teacher-nuns drummed the fear of God into our minds with threats like “If God stops thinking about you for even one second, you would go out of existence,” there is an added dimension to Worship of Hollow Gods. Though it may take a while to really get into this book, take that time. You will most likely find a lot of yourself and others you love in Worship of Hollow Gods.