The story of an unlikely modern-day messiah.
Segal’s fiction debut begins unassumingly enough: In 2004, on a snowy patch of road on the way to Philadelphia, auto mechanic Bob Griffin and his girlfriend, Lisa, are surprised to find themselves caught up in a celestial vision. A grizzled middle-aged man (like “Anthony Hopkins on a bender”) appears and informs them that his earthly name is Mathew Wells, the Messenger, and that they have been chosen to receive his instructions. Bob and Lisa, as well as their extended circle of friends and family, are understandably nonplussed, and as Segal rather insightfully shows, their skepticism is only slightly allayedby miracles the Messenger performs once he’s a guest in the modest Griffin home. He breaks the ice by showing them all the ghost of Bob’s dead wife, he miraculously removes an old piece of Vietnam shrapnel from Bob’s father, he levitates a basketball—yet from the beginning, Mathew is clear that these parlor tricks are only to establish his bona fides; his true goals are much grander. “My purpose is nothing short of saving the planet,” he tells his small group of first contacts. And this will be accomplished by the church they’ll establish, called the Sphere, which will teach the ways of “Spin & Modulation”—a means to connect with the flow of the universe—to the people of the world. To help spread this doctrine, Mathew asks for trust, “not your immortal soul.” They anticipate conflicts with the world’s religions, all of which Segal portrays with thorough cynicism—“The Catholic Church won’t be thrilled…not because of lost souls, but because of lost revenues”—and the bulk of the novel is concerned with the practical steps of setting up a messianic ministry in the 21st century. (One of the disciples is in charge of creating the website.) And although the divine messenger is rather overimpressed by the music of the Grateful Dead—“Matt remained in awe at the clarity attained in a shifting modulation sequence”—Segal’s crisp, lively writing style carries the story effortlessly to its bittersweet end.
An engaging, insightful satire on the place of revelation in the modern world.