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Did super-seller Colleen McCullough lose her enormous Thorn Birds following by writing the talky, tedious An Indecent Obsession (1981)? Probably not: it takes more than one awful novel--cf., among others, Robin Cook--to alienate the readership gained from one or two book/film/TV blockbusters. So there'll probably be a solid commercial turnout for this truly dreadful slab of socio-theological fiction, which retells the Christ story in terms of 21st-century America. Yes, it's 2032 A.D., hard times for the US: ""the dwindling water, the hideous cold, the shrinking land, the anti-American outside world""--which has forced the weak, isolated, decadent US (""We'd fried our brains on dope and our hearts on loveless copulation"") to sign the demeaning Delhi Treaty. Something must be done, then, to give the despairing American people a lift. And Dr. Judith Carriol, an asexual biggie at the Dept. of Environment, leads an intensive search for the ""one person capable of teaching a sick nation how to heal itself."" Is famous Senator Hillier or Nobel-winner Walter Charnowski? No, it's an unknown psychologist named . . . Joshua Christian! Dr. Christian runs a clinic in Holloman, CT, specializing in the treatment of ""millennial neurosis""; he's the most charismatic man that anybody's ever met; he's totally dedicated, utterly celibate at 32 (of course), incredibly good; and he has his uplifting sermonettes all ready to go. (""Our people must find God again. They must learn to live again with God and self at the center of their personal universes. . . if they cannot believe in any existing concept of God, then they must find their own concept. But they must believe!"" Etc.) So ""Operation Messiah"" goes full steam ahead--launched by Dr. C.'s instant bestseller, God in Cursing, which he plugs on all the talk shows with ""bombshell"" appearances. He and Judith, though drawn to each other, resist temptation. (""To daily unfruitfully in the arms of a lover, no matter how beloved, is a solipsistic alternative both. of us discarded many years ago."") To Judith's horror, however, Dr. C. becomes even more messianic than they'd intended him to be: ""Fucking crap! You're not merely on an ego trip, Joshua Jesus Christian Christ! You're on a god trip!"" So, when Dr. C. goes all the way, ruining his health in marathon walks and epic marches (5,000,000 followers in N.Y. and N.J.), he is betrayed by Judith/Judas. . . and winds up, through ludicrous plot-contortions, crucifying himself on Pocahontas Island. Embarrassing dialogue, murkily verbose narration, oafishly explicit New Testament parallels: a noisy but shallow and undramatic fable--weak as futurology, even weaker as fiction.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row