Our existence in the world as humans having bodies and minds is defined by a perpetual quest for making sense of life—through expressing and concealing, as well as interacting with various elements, both internally and outwardly. More than anything else, we are instinctively drawn to defend our ‘self’—that which is considered and felt as the valuable and, in a more metaphysical sense, the sacred. Tom Petsinis’ The Death of Pan (Penguin Books Australia, 2001) engages readers in 16 compelling tales of the characteristic human anxiety, which makes the base of the continuum connecting the biological instinct of self-preservation with the learned aspects of living in society.
These stories grab your attention since the very first page of the book in that the author takes you, the reader, as his protagonist—the tales all narrated in second person. The nameless main character “you” becomes an everyman in different geographical and social settings and experiencing various situations with a heightened consciousness, mostly getting increasingly anxious as the veneers around the protected self peel one by one with the unfolding of the events in each story. Comparing the human sense, or spirit, of protection with the Greek god Pan, Petsinis subtly strips his readers of their illusion of the human being the advanced species—traditionally perceived as reflecting the image of god—with a touch of irony. Man’s story starts out well, with hope and passion, but not for long. The illusion dies, as does Pan (the only Greek god who really dies, as the mythology goes), and what follows is beyond description—just the end of the story, as in Petsinis’ tales.
Though Petsinis’ themes and characters are more generic, his characters—or “you”—are men with a passion for the artistic, intellectual, the exceptional; they are mostly aspiring geniuses and masters of a craft or skill—individuals more than willing to shoulder the heavens. Whether they are really up to it and how they will soon worry about saving themselves from the fierce force of life make the element of interest in the plot of each narrative. In some of these stories, Anorexia for example, the causal or thematic connection between events is rather obscure; in others, it shows in each line. Stories like The Ultimate Prime and The Lion Tamer are sharply focused gems of meaningful narrative wherein readers are taken right on to the thin line between achievement and doom. One story, The Predator, instantiates the art of good story-telling and the value it holds for the storyteller—literarily and commercially.
The only thing that may bother the reader of The Death of Pan is the monotonous narration in second person. A voice, not yours, telling that you did this and went through that feels imposing at times. On the whole, however, Petsinis’ stories are not to be missed. It is a literary treasure, timeless and invaluable.