A man with a halo captures the world’s attention—is he a fraud or a messiah?
Waking up with a hangover is bad enough, but it’s apparently more troubling to see a halo atop your head. That’s what happens to James Michael Flagg, a first-year med student who goes by Michael. He undergoes government tests and is questioned by clerics, but his appearance on a morning talk show sends the public into a frenzy, some believing in him and others believing he’s a false prophet. For his part, Michael insists he’s not a saint. But everything changes after a near-death experience; then “Saint Michael” founds the First Church of the Primary Colors, which continues to gain followers despite the occasional assassination attempt. Nicholls’ debut novel reads more like a comedy than a satire, even with the often controversial topic of religion. It’s unfortunate there’s so little satirical bite, particularly since Nicholls is not directly criticizing any one religion. Similarly, he avoids specifying a deity, and varying religions are viewed in equal light: there’s a rabbi, ashrams from India and Catholics who equate the halo with stigmata. Nonetheless, the book succeeds as a comedy. There’s something darkly humorous about a man who may or may not be a saint thoughtlessly using the Lord’s name as an expletive. Saint Michael’s behavior is absurdly over-the-top, as he freely smokes, drinks, swears and spends a considerable amount of time with women—not quite saintly behavior, to be sure. Finally, the reason for the halo’s existence is explained and is no less comical. The novel’s short length works to its advantage because it ends on a high note as the plot starts winding down before the story turns silly.
A surprisingly light comedy considering its religious context, but one that hits its mark completely.