TOUCH by Elmore Leonard


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Rejected by more than a dozen publishers in 1977, this non-suspense novel by thriller-man Leonard now--thanks to his current hot-property status--makes its way into print. And, though delivered with leanly ironic narration and zip-lock dialogue, it's weak stuff indeed: a thin, unfocused replay of the familiar scenario (cf. Morris West, Irving Wallace, et al.) involving a contemporary religious miracle and its subsequent exploitation. Charlie Lawson--a.k.a. Brother Juvenal, a former Franciscan monk, age 33 (of course), now working for the Church's alcoholism rehab center in Detroit--has miraculous healing powers: when he touches the ill, he cures them--while blood spouts from his body at the five stigmata spots of Christ's wounds. Juvenal, a total innocent, is reticent (if unfazed and accepting) about all this. But a Catholic traditionalist movement (led by a racist, sexually repressed psycho-fanatic) tries to use Juvenal as a PR-weapon in the battle against Vatican-II reforms. Meanwhile, too, religion huckster Bill Hill plots to make big bucks off Juvenal, booking him (for $1 million) onto a Tom Snyder-ish TV talk-show. And Hill's reluctant sidekick, cynical PR-woman Lynn Faulkner, is transformed as she falls utterly in love with virginal Juvenal--who joyfully reciprocates, discoverings the joys of true romance and tender sex. ("I bleed from five wounds and heal people, but I've never been in love. Isn't that something?") Leonard's lively, gritty talent--individual scenes flare with lowdown atmosphere--can't disguise the overall sketchiness here: undeveloped drama, unconvincing characters. The tone wanders fuzzily from theological soap opera to black comedy to sitcom farce--especially in the limp finale: Juvenal's TV appearance, during which he heals the right-wing Catholic fanatic (injured while trying to murder Lynn). And the result is sporadically diverting but unsatisfying all around--too offhand (or simple-minded) for the religious-fiction audience, too feebly fanciful for Leonard's usual readership.
Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1987
ISBN: 0060089598
Page count: 340pp
Publisher: Arbor House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1987


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