An often striking account of religious opportunism.

Prophet of Loss

In this drama, a charismatic cult leader exploits a downtrodden family.

Celia Waters’ parents take a calculated risk to buy a new house in a small town in South Carolina, using insurance money that they received after Celia’s grandmother’s death to move out of the Blue Wave Mobile Home Community. But then Celia’s father suffers a serious back injury and loses his job delivering newspapers. Her mother is put out of work, too, when the dentist who employs her goes bankrupt. Celia’s dad abuses alcohol and OxyContin, and he grows verbally abusive, hopeless, and uncharacteristically lazy. His spirits improve after he attends a service at the Living Faith Church, and he’s enthralled with one of its ministers—the hypnotic Barrett Higgins, who eventually breaks from the church and starts his own. He then invites Celia’s family to live in his farmhouse rent-free. They become part of a fledgling religious community that becomes increasingly cultish and bizarre. One day, Higgins announces that he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ—to the joy of his new disciples—and takes Celia’s mother to be his new bride. They all start referring to him as “The Prophet.” Celia is singled out to be Higgins’ “own personal Gabriel.” But then she starts to question his divinity—and his motives. Author Weible (Hello from Out Here, 2010, etc.) deftly unpacks the cunning charm of the cult leader in this unsettling novel, showing how Higgins expertly preys on the vulnerabilities of his quarry: “Celia had wanted Barrett, to possess or be possessed by him, so badly because he was the only thing there was to want. That was his greatest trick.” That said, Celia’s father’s descent into helplessness from an initial place of strength seems too precipitous to be plausible. Aside from this narrative flaw, though, it’s a powerful story, and one that effectively illustrates the human capacity for gullibility.

An often striking account of religious opportunism.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-76126-7

Page Count: 278

Publisher: East West 792

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2016

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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