In a June 2017 feature entitled “29 Must-Read Local Books You Won’t Want to Put Down This Summer,” the following description of Bedeviled appeared.
Overworked, underpaid Ted Koga is stuck—in his Pearl Harbor job, in his marriage, as an ineffectual father—when his online porn habit draws the attention of his military employer. From this promising setup, Matsueda teases out a portrait of a man torn between religion and smut. Suspended from work, shamed at church and separated from his family, he finds hope by helping his daughter into recovery.
I want to comment on all the things wrong with this synopsis.
Bedeviled doesn’t mention Pearl Harbor. Though the military base in the book is much like PH, the differences will be obvious to readers who know PH well. Why is it important to make this point? Because the reality of PH is too limiting, and identifying where Ted works as PH could influence a person’s reading of the story. The base in Bedeviled could exist only in fiction, where it is free to expand and transform in response to the narrative.
The idea of being stuck may have been taken from a review that Michael Schmicker wrote for Amazon.com. Here is the second sentence of Schmicker’s review: “Stuck in a dead-end job, his marriage failing, his bank account empty, his children a disappointment, [Ted Koga] spends his free time surfing porn online, an addiction complicated by his fundamentalist Christian upbringing.”
Torn between Religion and Smut
Ted is not torn between religion and smut. His particular kind of arrogance allows him to have both things: he is free to sin, he tells himself, as long as he is a Christian believer. Eventually, he is compelled by events to choose not between religion and smut but between the self he has fashioned to survive and the self he had started his adult life with: one full of idealism, hope, and strength; a self not tormented by contradictions and compromised by the past. His challenge is to understand why he has failed to adhere to the principles that informed his identity as a young man, husband, and member of society—and to act when his understanding is complete.
Online Porn Habit Draws the Attention of His Military Employer
In connection with a crime, Ted is investigated, and it’s this, not his "porn habit," that “draws the attention of his military employer.”
Suspended from Work
Ted is not suspended. He is required to take a month’s paid leave for a psychiatric evaluation and remains employed throughout the story.
Shamed by Church
The shaming takes place in the background of the story, many years before the book’s present.
Finding Hope by Helping Daughter into Recovery
Gwen, Ted’s daughter, does not formally go “into recovery.” She is saved from self-destruction by her father, and this saving is taken up and extended by the Ogata family. The conditions of Ted's and Gwen's lives change organically. In a new home and new role, each character’s protected self—traumatized, betrayed, and wounded—heals to the point where it can emerge without judgment and fear. For Ted and Gwen, the process of recovery is ongoing, and it’s in this continuing state that their story meets its conclusion.
The third sentence of Schmicker’s review captures the essence of the book: “A spare, quietly spiritual novella, Bedeviled delivers Matsueda’s extended, thoughtful meditation on marriage, family and forgiveness.” Faced with a moral challenge, Ted struggles to earn the forgiveness that he once felt he did not deserve.
In closing, I also want to quote a brief review that Ann Pancake wrote for the edition published through Lulu.com:
Bedeviled is a quiet thriller, one I couldn’t put down and read in two days flat—but this novella is more than a riveting story. Matsueda inhabits with great sensitivity flawed people usually dismissed and scorned in our culture, challenging reader assumptions while still keeping her characters’ feet to the fire. A graceful book by a courageous writer.
An author couldn’t hope for more precise, insightful words than these from Schmicker and Pancake. This is true praise, for which I am very grateful.