Pr1me of Life
By P.D. Bekendam
04 February 2014
Pr1me of Life was a pleasant surprise. I don’t know what I was expecting when I saw the cover—my sister mentioned it looked like a self-help book when she walked by me reading it one afternoon—but Ben, the main character; the residents of Heritage Gardens, where Ben works as a custodian; and the mishaps they overcome and growth they undertake all managed to keep me turning pages until the epilogue, where the story jumps ahead five years and acts as a denouement.
Ben has a secret: he’s a former cardiothoracic surgeon who couldn’t stop his brother from dying on the operating table in front of him. In panic and despair, he dropped everything and fled to the other side of the country, where he took up as the custodian of Heritage Garden, an old folks home where the residents are as loving, cantankerous, and human as anyone else. And that’s just the beginning of the story.
The entire cast of characters include Frank and Marvin, two men who’ve known each other from childhood and who constantly play pranks on one another; Jerry, a man with multiple doctoral degrees who Ben calls the Professor; Betty, an older woman not really old enough to be in a nursing home; Lex, a podiatrist who has a crush on Ben (and visa versa); and Hailey, Betty’s niece who visits the facility after her grandfather dies there and who gets caught in the storyline just as it begins to take off. Other characters make appearances: Jane, who has a thing for Frank; Junior, the manager who has a gambling problem; and Sam, the grandfather who dies and whose funeral brings together the members of what becomes a hodgepodge family of sorts.
Wracked with guilt over not being able to save his brother, Ben spends his mental energy avoiding the past and counting prime numbers: his steps, the arrangement of the books on his shelves, the stripes on his shirts, and more. After he and the residents learn that Junior has gambled away the funds to keep Heritage Gardens open for much longer and the property will default if they don’t do something, Ben discovers that he’s got the $23,000,000 prize-winning lottery ticket and could save the day… if only he can find it.
The novel is written in first person present perspective, with the exception of Ben’s flashbacks to his abandoned life, which are in first person past tense. I don’t usually like the present tense in novels, but the author of Pr1me of Life managed to write in such a way that wasn’t at all distracting. The story is also a romance, kind of, which I also don’t usually like, but the difficulties Ben must surmount really make the romance an important side story, but a side story nonetheless. I identified with Ben’s obsessive-compulsive behavior (I have OCD myself) and his troubles with extreme avoidance.
Though it’s published by a Christian press and one of the themes of the novel is “believing and trusting in someone greater than oneself”, I didn’t feel beat over the head with God stuff, not even during the epilogue, where it was the most obvious. The message wasn’t heavy-handed, and it made sense in the context of the story, which is really what it’s all about for me. I have to say, this is one of the better pieces of Christian fiction I’ve ever read. Kudos to Bekendam for his storytelling skills. I would be happy to recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys realistic fiction, Christian or otherwise.
DISCLAIMER: I received Pr1me of Life free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.