“A Tiny Upward Shove” by Melissa Chadburn
Most every species has a hierarchy where some possess that certain something that makes them dominant, and they then lord over the have nots. In most of the animal world, this is managed by a Darwinian survival of the fittest.
Humans have attempted to develop systems that are designed to overcome this pure law of the jungle order. These systems are generally a combination of political and economic rules and regulations that attempt to create at least a semblance of equal opportunity. These systems generally don’t work very well. (The disparities of these approaches have been ever more fully exposed during the Age of Covid).
Some cultures have long had other mechanisms to manage or at least comfort victims of inequality. Often these mechanisms have a spiritual component — religious, often mystical. One such set of rituals, based on Filipino folklore, forms the heart of Melissa Chadburn’s striking debut novel, “A Tiny Upward Shove”.
Chadburn has a deep understanding (and has written eloquently about) the limitations of public, private, non-profit, and faith-based entities’ inability to come anywhere near to meeting the true needs of the destitute. She knows that victims of the forces of evil — rape, abuse, poverty, neglect — can’t expect to get much help from societal agencies. Instead they are condemned to do the best they can to make it through the day. Maybe one in a hundred survives to live a better life. Maybe one in a million is lucky enough to escape, disguising the trauma as best possible.
As we understand from the jump, Marina, Willie, and likely many others that we are to meet, never had a chance in this material world. But maybe they can be of assistance in the next.
“A Tiny Upward Shove” is a riveting novel. Word of caution: the depictions in several pivotal scenes are hardcore and potentially triggering.
Thanks to Farrar, Strauss and Giroux and NetGalley for the eARC.