THE STORY OF B by Daniel Quinn


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 Loose sequel to Quinn's debut novel, Ishmael (1992), the odd and controversial winner of the $500,000 Turner Tomorrow Award. In Ishmael, a young neophyte more or less accidentally apprenticed himself to a great talking ape, allowing Quinn to string together a series of Socratic dialogues on mankind's woes. Here, the device is much the same. We meet a young Laurentian priest, Jared Osbourne, who notes early on that the Laurentians still observe an old injunction: to watch for the appearance of the Antichrist. Jared is sent by his superior to investigate an itinerant European preacher known as B, a.k.a. Charles Atterley. Atterley isn't satanic in the least, however, nor even very religious, so the ``Antichrist'' tag is just a platform for Quinn to do his own preaching, which is reminiscent of the ape's declamations in Ishmael. When B is assassinated for his views, it makes little sense in terms of the plot, since all B does is talk (and talk)--he doesn't cast spells or plot world dominion. He talks about how primitive cultures were divided up into ``Leavers'' and ``Takers,'' how these ancient archetypes are still working themselves out, and how overpopulation will, in the next century, come near to obliterating us all. Modern agriculture, which Quinn thinks of as ``totalitarian'' because it's so divorced from nature, will not address the needs of 12 billion people (the UN estimate of how many of us there will be by 2040). The novel's format is artificial and far-fetched, but no matter: The author writes a facile, clear prose, and the ideas he wants to discuss are admittedly important. Quinn is a provocative thinker. Imagine a combination of Robert M. Pirsig for style, Ayn Rand for cardboard characters on soapboxes, and the Unabomber for a nature-centered but slightly menacing feel. The combination equals Quinn, and makes for a helluva rant.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-553-10053-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1996


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