In these entertaining tales, “gods and godmen” come in for some serious ribbing.

OF GODS, HUMANS AND BEASTS

A collection offers religious short stories with unconventional elements.

“This is a true story,” Wishman writes at one point in his work. “It is not nice to tell true stories about dead men, I know. With gods and godmen, it is different.” This twofold tone—of straight-faced reserve and a certain no-holds-barred approach—runs throughout the book, which is a mixture of tales revolving around various religious themes. A Hindu man is mistaken for a Christian in “How Jesus Saved Mrs. Frankson,” for instance. And in “How Supreme Court Played Spoil-sport,” a Hindu man named Krishan Sharma is urged to convert to Christianity in stark, fundamentalist terms: “Believe me, Mr. Sharma, this is the time for you to accept Him. He mounted the cross to save you. Don’t you see the signs?” These modern-day stories are counterbalanced with tales drawn from various religious texts and rewritten in a decidedly contemporary idiom. One of these stories, for instance, is the Old Testament tale of King David and Absalom and Ahitophel. “Weeping like a coward,” David fled to Mount of Olives, “making arrangements for spies to be stationed in Absalom’s house,” the author writes. “God was indeed tantalized, but had not forgotten the dirty trick He had reserved for David.” This note of wry irreverence is most prominently on display in “Sweet Balls for a Man-God,” which touches on the famous religious figure Sathya Sai Baba. But that tone is omnipresent in the text and the footnotes that often accompany the tales. Wishman is a smoothly talented storyteller with a sharp eye for the hypocrisies and absurdities that so often accompany even the most devotional tales. Devoutly religious readers may feel a low simmer of outrage as the pages turn. But those who have ever been disillusioned by their own faiths or the beliefs of others will be eagerly reading these stories.

In these entertaining tales, “gods and godmen” come in for some serious ribbing.

Pub Date: June 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5320-9738-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2020

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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