A mishmash of a tale that mixes the fantastic misadventures of a modern-day hero often mistaken for Christ with stories from the New Testament retold from an offbeat off-putting slant. English novelist and journalist Pickering (The Blue Gate of Babylon, 1989; Wild About Harry, 1985) assembles a meandering narrative that goes back and forth in time, now and then rehashing the same material. The Albigensians, medieval heretics who believed the earth was created by an evil god, are mentioned several times- -and certainly the world Pickering describes is nothing to cheer about. There is also an on-again/off-again quest for a City of Gold or its jeweled replica held by title character Charlie Peace, who has mythic dimensions and may be 2000 years old. Jack Peachy, the hero, was intrigued by Peace's stories as a child in Yorkshire and goes to New York with his sister Poppy in search of him and his City of Gold bauble. Feverish, dysfunctional New York is one of the targets of Pickering's satiric barbs, as is America's religious right. But nothing has much impact because the incidents—realistic or fantastic—seem to be thrown together arbitrarily, making the whole less than the sum of its parts. Whether Jack lives or dies or simply withdraws to a quiet corner becomes of no compelling interest since he, like the book, appears to be fashioned at whim. The Christ who surfaces in the stories here, sometimes on a motorcycle, isn't made out to be worth the effort of either worshipping or disavowing. The humor is largely jejune or spoiled by a sense of strain, and the sex, though graphic, lacks sensuality. A Pilgrim's Progress going nowhere (which may have been the author's intention).
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