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by Benjamin Anastas

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-374-15214-4
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A satire on the state of the American soul comes partially dressed in the bygone literary conventions of such learned colonists as Jonathan Edwards.

Thomas Mosher is the young, black pastor of the Pilgrim's Congregational Church ("An Historic Church with a Modern Message") in W_________, Massachusetts, serving a white, upper-middle-class congregation, until one day, after a particularly esoteric sermon, "The Shapes of Love," Mosher disappears, vanishing without a trace. With this potent conceit in place, Anastas (An Underachiever’s Diary, 1998) embarks on his treatise against rampant US materialism by wading into the lives of the congregants, who most definitely fit the sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God bill. His major doer of wrong is Bethany Caruso, mother of two difficult children and wife of a sex-starved husband, who is carrying on an affair with the "well-liked" pastor. She's followed closely by Margaret Howard, the high-powered real-estate broker and racist who motivates her staff by insisting that a property represents "Love and Happiness!" Anastas tempers his condemnation with portraits of other, good, congregants, who are not only devout but as lonely, flawed, and wounded by the world as Thomas. His devoted assistant minister, the Reverend Jane Groom, finds intimacy so challenging that she lives with a dog named Molly Bloom, and a fair share of the narrative is devoted to Molly in estrus and Jane's efforts to fend off suitors. Indeed, the lives of these and other characters command the narrative, while Thomas, a black man of mixed parentage, too awkward to have excelled in sports, and, for the most part, a mediocre lover, remains an enigma, his melancholy shadow hinted at through the lives of his flock. That's not enough. His reasons for adultery with Bethany, who "replaced his religion and silenced God," may leave the reader fidgeting and slightly dazed, like his congregants as they listened to that last sermon.

An ambitious book, undone by its surfeit of symbolic meanings, leading—well, God knows where.