In Secret Vengeance, F. Paul Wilson concludes his trilogy of young adult novels focused on his signature character, Repairman Jack. While not as plot-intensive as the previous entry in the series, Secret Circles, this tale sprinkles the story with characters and events that foreshadow Jack’s future career as a “repairman,” the one who steps in to aid lost souls when their problems cannot be resolved via the legal system. These hints of how Jack’s life will unfold are what hold particular interest as he seeks an anonymous revenge for a wrong done to his best friend, Louise “Weezy” Connell.
As poet William Wordsworth said, “The child is father of the man.” The mysteries and injustices that have beset Jack, his friends, and his family in Secret Histories and the two follow-up stories certainly helped mold the individual he later became. Though (to his chagrin) Jack’s mother constantly refers to him as her “miracle” child (for reasons revealed in Vengeance), Jack’s independent attitudes and beliefs as teen and adult also deserve the “miracle” label. In a society in which 98% of adults do, indeed, favor the government having “power over” others’ lives in one way or another, Jack manages to reject the cultural baggage society seeks to add to his burden. Jack wants only to play by his own rules, but that worthy goal becomes harder with each passing year. Jack’s task becomes all the more difficult when the conflict between the cosmic foes of the Ally and the Adversary drape over his very existence.
The head of the Septimus Order and integral figure in this largely invisible war, Mr. Drexler, tries to convince Jack that there are two classes of people: the Movers and the Moved and that Jack was born to be a Mover. He wants to recruit Jack to work with him and the Order, in due time to experience the glories of control over his innate inferiors.
[Mr. Drexler said,] “...knowledge is power, and if everyone has power, then no one has power.”
[Jack said,] “You mean, no one would have power over anyone else.” (p. 119)
This arrogance of a self-selected elite reveals the visceral distrust the “Movers” of our world have for the “Moved” to make their own decisions and manage their own lives. It’s an example of the “imperial impulse” that has plagued mankind for longer than recorded history. This desire to rule those who have no need of rulers is disguised as policies imposed at the point of a gun “for your own good,” as compassion for those “who can’t make it on their own,” as antidotes for “life’s lottery” that creates winners and losers willy-nilly without regard for merit or desirability.
Neither option is of particular interest to Jack.
Jack said, “Maybe some days you’re a Mover, and maybe some days you’re one of the Moved.”
“Why be either,” [Jack’s sister] Kate said.
… “What do you mean?”
“Why not just opt out and refuse to be part of the game? Step aside and play your own game with your own rules, and screw the rest.”…
Jack sat there, stunned as epiphanies exploded in his brain… Neither a Moved nor a Mover be...refuse to play...step off the board and liberate yourself from the game…
[Jack’s] Dad...said, “Sounds like anarchy to me.”
But it sounded wonderful to Jack. (p. 125)
Weezy’s nemesis — high school football star, Carson Toliver — shares Mr. Drexler’s sense of entitlement. Though attracted to and flattered by Toliver’s unexpected attention, Weezy quickly discovers that a “Mover” such as Toliver expects the “Moved” to accede to whatever demands her superior makes. Surprised by Weezy’s resistance to his advances and her escape from his car, Toliver seeks vengeance against one so blind to his charms. Thinking only of his own wounded ego, Toliver spreads a rumor at school that “Easy Weezy” readily — and gladly — surrendered that which only her fierce denial spared from defilement.
Jack’s first thought to take crude physical revenge against Toliver for his transgressions is replaced by Jack’s characteristic desire to act anonymously — and, in a way, more devastatingly — against the sick bullies of the world. Much of Secret Vengeance details his elaborate plan to transform the high school “mover” into a pitiful example of the “moved” who Toliver treats with such disdain.
But not everyone accepts Jack’s premise that he can, in fact, voluntarily make a difference in the course of his own life.
[Mr. Drexler said,] “Surely you’re not thinking of autonomy! That’s pure fiction. Everything is determined...free will is an illusion… Even the Movers are being moved.” (p. 136)
This tension between Jack’s belief in self-control and the “no coincidences” motif that underlies the adult Jack novels is a dichotomy that is eventually resolved in Nightworld. But the beings that intrude into Jack’s world often seem so overwhelmingly powerful that his status as a pawn moved by forces he cannot really understand too frequently appears irrefutable. Jack, however, never accepts such a heinous fate for himself.
[Jack’s] Dad...said, “I guess I believe that all men are created equal, with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… I do believe they are unalienable. You know that that means?”
[Jack said,] “They can’t be taken away.”
“But what if you’re a slave?”
“Just because some thug prevents you from exercising those rights, doesn’t mean they no longer exist.” (p. 84)
Unfortunately, the day when Jack can truly strike back against the cosmic “thugs” interfering with his life lies far in the future of the teen in Secret Vengeance. In this book, Jack’s hazy thoughts slowly coalesce into a coherent worldview, a process that is accelerated by some well-timed questions from his civics teacher, Mr. Kressy.
[Jack’s civics teacher, Mr. Kressy said]: “Wait...you each do have a guiding principle, don’t you? You know — a fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption that guides you…”
...Jack raised his hand and said, “How about, ‘Do the right thing’?”
…“By what process do you arrive at the criteria for what is ‘right’? For that, you have to dig deep… Ferret out your prime or first principle, the touchstone belief to which everything you think or do must answer.” (pp. 42 - 43)
Jack ponders these questions and later offers an answer:
Jack gave [Mr. Kressy’s challenge] a try, going with Dad’s idea. “How about everyone has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”
“Absolutely!” Mr. Kressy said… “...But why do we have those rights?… What does every human on this planet have in common?” He paused… “We’re all alive. We all have life!
“Your life — whose is it? Your or someone’s else’s?…
“You own your own life, and that fact should form the cornerstone of how you live your life...
“If everyone owns their own life, it guarantees them liberty and the pursuit of happiness… you can seek happiness, but it’s not guaranteed. Happiness isn’t a right, it’s something you must achieve. Owning your own life means no one can interfere with that ownership by initiating force against you. It also means the opposite: You have no right to initiate force against another…” (p. 108)
Jack also realizes that wrongful force is not an always in-your-face proposition. When a stranger asks him to make a special, under-the-counter deal on some old comics Jack’s employer, Mr. Rosen, has for sale, “Jack...couldn’t think any amount of money that would make it right to cheat someone who trusted him.” (p. 97)
The would-be cheat? Abe Grossman, proprietor of Isher Sporting Goods in New York City, and Mr. Rosen’s nephew, testing Jack’s character. Passing the test with flying colors, Jack establishes a link with the man who will one day become his best friend, confidante, and weapons supplier.
Though Jack’s plot against Weezy’s attacker proceeds apace, he begins to realize that even apparently justified decisions and actions can have unpleasant results. As his sometimes-friend, Walt, explains, “...There’s a price to pay… TANSTAAFL… ‘There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.’… Somebody pays, somebody always pays…” (p. 155) Both Jack and Toliver experience such unexpected negative consequences, Jack in his inability to share with Weezy what he is doing and Toliver in the awakening of other vengeful powers whose existence he never (could have) anticipated.
Like the Marines who died in Beirut attempting to do the right thing, sometimes (too often) good intentions can lead to horrible results. “It’s the law of unintended consequences.” (p. 32) It’s a law that Jack will become intimately familiar with as the years progress.
But regardless of any setbacks he suffers, Jack is not one easily to admit to defeat. It’s a trait that will eventually have to sustain Jack through the literal end of the world, but it’s a characteristic that puts a lie to any acceptance of an unchangeable fate.
Maybe [Levi, the Piney, was] right, Jack thought.
Maybe [Jack’s talent] was simply not quitting. Maybe it was just hanging in there and looking at a problem every which way until he found a solution. Maybe his talent was seeing a solution where other people didn’t. (p. 187)...
Jack remembered an old saying… The harder I work, the luckier I get. (p. 215)
Despite any drawbacks his beliefs and his actions might entail, Jack knows that who he is — his personality, his character — will sustain him even when he must act alone.
Mr. Drexler added, “Some people cannot bear being alone… You do not appear to mind.”
[Jack said,] “Just because I’m alone doesn’t mean I’m lonely.” (p. 221)
The irony, of course, of Jack’s philosophy, his life, his eventual career is that this supreme individualist, this man who is often alone but rarely lonely, this person who wants to live only by his own rules, this person who is self-reliant, self-controlled, and self-motivated; this man who stands above and apart from so many of his fellow human beings; this man is one whose livelihood, whose actions, whose self-made destiny is focused on other people:
[Jack’s Mom] was already halfway back to the kitchen. “You can always make money, Jack. You don’t get many chances to help out a person in need.”
Yeah, he thought, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to do both?
Now there was a thought… (p. 193)
And a good thought, it is.