Q: Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?
A: The lack of the whole image of Christ and God. Really. I just wanted to show and make art that had to do with Christ as a warrior and King... rather than mercy and kindness that we all see and understand.
- Author’s response to a question on Goodread
I couldn’t run anymore
I’ll let these Holy people boil and burn
My hated skin, sinful yet,
Because even goodness I’ve spurned.
I hate God
Th’ Saints arrive with raised weaponry
An’ shove their swords through my body,
I feel th’ sting. Yet I can but see
Sighs of blood fill the even air.
I have refused the Christ.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
Through my haughty lungs their blades jam,
So natural their blades pull blood clumps.
This will ne’er heal.
- excerpt from Finibus as advertised by the author
This is my first book review, so of course I wind up with 47 pages of gory poetry, because if you’re going to jump in, you might as well do it head first! If I had to sum up the poem, presented as a collection of songs, I would describe it as gory and graphic images reminiscent of Dante’s inferno but applied to the final judgement and turned up to eleven, then paired with the lyricism of a sonnet (I think this is now the strangest sentence I’ve ever written).
Okay, that’s out of my system. First the what. Finibus is a metric, narrative poem written from the point of view of a martyred priest who is condemned to hell and has witnessed the final judgement. You read that right, a martyred priest condemned to hell (he still had one sin on his heart at the time of his death). The excerpt above gives you a good idea of the tone of it, although several of the songs are far more graphic.
Next the why. One of the strongest feelings (and the feelings were strong) was that I really wanted to know who the author was and why they were writing this. Fortunately, Jonas Perez answered the question himself and you can see his answer at the beginning of the review. If my only judgement of the work (it’s not really a book per se) was whether he achieved his goal, I would say he most definitely did. In no way, shape or form is Christ presented as merciful or kind. Rather he is a vengeful warrior king, exacting revenge on evil and those who rejected him. If St. Faustina’s image of a Christ broken hearted over our sin and death was part one in a movie series, then Perez’s Finibus would be the action hero sequel where Christ has nothing left to lose and now he’s getting his revenge (I hope you read that in the movie voiceover guy, Don LaFontaine’s voice).
Tongue in cheek aside, Finibus is dark. Really dark. It dispenses with all hope, and proceeds with a sometimes terrifying series of events and descriptions that are meant to instill a sense of fear and despair in the reader. I think if you spent time wondering what it would be like to stand before God on judgement day and be declared a stranger to be cast into a Hell of fire, reading this work will give you a strong sense of that.
This is what Finibus is like, only this painting isn’t violent or disturbing enough
If you know me right now you’d probably think ‘wow, that is not Ryan, he must have hated it’. Surprisingly I didn’t. Artistically I will say it is interesting (I can’t analyze poetry well enough to say more about it than that) and accessible. You don’t need to be an English professor to ‘get’ it, but a heavy literary type could probably dig pretty heavily into it. Thematically it feels old. I don’t mean old as in worn out, or tired. I mean old as in the picture it paints is culturally from another era, and that makes it an engaging work to ponder. In fact, I would love to see it done up as a video graphic novel in a Frank Miller sort of style, voiced over by someone like James Earl Jones or Percy Rodriguez (the voice over for the Jaws trailer). Having said that, it would not be my go-to for deepening my faith, working on my prayer life and relationship with God, or a tool I would use for evangelization. I might read it again with a group of teens around a campfire at a retreat instead of telling a horror story, or if I was trying to scare myself into going to confession though.
Overall, I think this would be a love it or hate it work for most folks. Someone who connects deeply with Christ as merciful and sorrowful over our sin won’t likely connect with this. Someone who is new to their faith or not in the Church will likely be confused in the best case, or come away with an image of Christ that is about hatred and violence at worst. If I were to recommend it, it would be to folks who are very mature in their faith, are interested in a unique piece of art, and are strong at discerning the content they consume.
- Ryan Fox