"Fans of religious and historical fiction—perhaps Walter Wangerin’s masterpiece The Book of God (1998) in particular—will find a great deal in these pages to keep them entertained. Richly enjoyable biblical fiction."– Kirkus Reviews
|Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2013|
|Page count: 828pp|
A fictionalized epic about the Israelites’ entry into the ancient Middle East.
Schenck’s (World’s Greatest Artists, 2011, etc.) novel spans the biblical Exodus of the Israelites and their violent journey through Canaan (the modern day Middle East), offering an extensive story of war, alliances and divine intervention. With a particular focus on the Old Testament’s book of Joshua (or Yeshua), the book chronicles the Israelites’ difficult, albeit triumphant, journey under Yeshua’s leadership. It brings the harshness of ancient battles to life, with slashing swords and constant, unmerciful conflict. Although Yeshua’s people believe that they’re acting under the one and true God, their shortcomings under biblical law regularly result in their facing God’s wrath. Some Israelites insist that they should all return to Egypt, but as they conquer the polytheistic, frequently amoral tribes around them, the epic marches on. The story includes descriptions of famous biblical scenes, such as the conquering of Jericho, and not-so-famous ones, such as the defeat of the Amorite King Sihon, and does a good job of interweaving various Old Testament elements into a larger whole. That said, it also often features grand speeches and that tend to state the obvious, which may not appeal to modern readers: “Yes, we Reubenites are the children of Abraham who was a child of Eber, a Babylonian. However, in spite of our shared blood heritage, we will fight alongside our Yaakovite brothers until you are dead, dead, dead.” Good guys tend to be really good, at least in the eyes of God, and bad guys tend to be really bad, as in a detailed description of the sexual depravities of ancient Jericho that make even the most decadent days of Rome seem tame. As a result, this retelling of these ancient stories offers little new complexity.
A violent biblical story, slowed by awkward dialogue and underdeveloped characters.
A man’s stories of Vietnam and his unique ability to absorb other people’s personalities may help authorities locate a terrorist in Schenck’s (The Dark Diceman, 2012, etc.) religious thriller.
Special Agent Ted Alignman, desperate to stop Mark Evans, the American leader of Islamic terrorists, finds himself at a Colorado mental hospital. It seems that Abel Jarrett, one of the residents, knew Evans during the Vietnam War, before he converted to Islam. Jarrett, an “absorber of personalities,” tells a story of struggling with his own identity, as Evans’ controversial ideas on religion garner him followers, and a mystical figure known as the Birdcatcher appears to Jarrett in visions. A crime scene at the beginning of the novel—Alignman witnesses the aftermath of a massacre attributed to the “Evanites”—is but a tease, a catalyst for Jarrett to relay his Vietnam history to the agent; his doctor, Peterson; and Worthington, a lawyer and fellow veteran. This leads to seemingly endless philosophical discussions of religious ideology among soldiers while the Evans subplot takes a back seat. That’s not necessarily a narrative drawback, though: Throughout his visions, Jarrett meets people already revealed as personalities, a brilliantly existential experience in which he’s essentially conversing with himself (and, to be sure, he speaks with a version of himself in dreams). It’s also a literal interpretation of an inner struggle, as two sergeants, Nicewander and Badlock, come to represent good and evil—two sides that, tellingly, aren’t depicted in stark black and white. Schenck’s descriptions of war are remarkable—exploding mortar rounds are likened to “Hell’s entrance gate”—but his unrelenting, graphic approach can be excessive; racial and homophobic epithets abound, while women get the worst of it, more often than not being called “whores” or “bitches.” Some, such as Alignman’s loving wife, aren’t even given a name. His views on religion, however, while not to everyone’s tastes, are refreshingly candid, openly examining different creeds and showing a person’s redemption as an arduous battle, making the war setting all the more ingenious and not a drastic change sparked by simply adopting a new outlook.
Often searing and always provocative even if some of the uglier words or scenes can be distracting.
|Pub Date: June 17, 2011|
|Page count: 724pp|
Schenck (The Birdcatcher, 2013) recasts the book of Genesis as a novel.
The opening remarks of Schenck’s new novel might unsettle non-Christian or nonreligious readers: “If you have never experience[d] the Holy Ghost’s presence, I will tell you this: it is an extraordinary bathing of pure, essential radiance.” But dismayed readers need not worry: The long novel that follows these opening remarks is far more interested in entertaining than proselytizing. “This is not Dune nor playful invention,” Schenck warns, but when he sets himself to retelling the biblical stories of creation, the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, his entertaining storytelling instincts come to the fore, and a tale emerges that’s very different from the familiar narrative of the book of Genesis. Told to eager first-century listeners by a very old Apostle John, this story and its contents are cleverly altered by Schenck to accommodate modern science. Life on Earth happens in waves of creation and extinction (angels visit the planet while it’s still ruled by gigantic, savage dinosaurs), until God decides to change the pattern of mindless, cyclical destruction: “The Father soothingly whispered to Michael the archangel, ‘Now we will create something different. Something glorious.’ ” The chapters that follow are familiar yet engagingly changed, united both by Schenck’s personal faith and his keen ear for dialogue. For instance, when the Philistine king Abimelech is astonished to hear that Abraham talks to God, Abraham calmly replies, “Yes, friends do that with each other, you know. We like each other.” Schenck also adeptly pens breakneck action sequences, especially those filling out the long narrative of scrappy Jacob’s adventures among the Philistines. Fans of religious and historical fiction—perhaps Walter Wangerin’s masterpiece The Book of God (1998) in particular—will find a great deal in these pages to keep them entertained.
Richly enjoyable biblical fiction.
Schenck (The Birdcatcher, 2013, etc.) offers a novel about the life of Jesus Christ.
Beginning some time before birth of Jesus (Yehoshua in the text), this fictionalized rendering of his life focuses not just on the savior himself but on a wide range of supporting characters, from Herod to Satan to a Roman soldier with a fondness for Jesus’ mother. To that end, the author interposes a broad mix of history, fiction and the supernatural to create a portrait of epic proportions. The reader follows along during such famous events as the Assumption, the crucifixion and the resurrection, as Yehoshua’s life plays out not just as a religious occurrence, but as a political one as well: What did the coming of a messiah mean to the people of Judea, as well as to the Romans who ruled them? Schenck offers regular contrasts between the decadence of Rome and the morality of those under its yoke, and the savior is portrayed as a guiding light in an otherwise murderous, untrustworthy time. Such a portrayal is somewhat unsurprising, although the story is noteworthy for its breadth of context, which details the madness of Herod’s rule and includes such relatively obscure figures as the Egyptian pharaoh Necho. Readers already familiar with the events surrounding Jesus’ life will likely feel that this book doesn’t break much new ground, and they may find figures such as Satan almost comical (particularly when he taunts Yehoshua as a “son-of-a-bitch born from the bowels of a whore”). Likewise, other characters tend to offer obvious remarks, as when a teenager receives a miracle and cries out, “Yes, I do believe in you Lord!”
An ambitious novel that, despite a wide range of characters, sheds little new light on the story of Jesus’ life.