In Tullius’ (Unlocking the Cage, 2017, etc.) first book of a planned series, a young man must decide whether to submit to his hellfire-preaching father’s plans for him.
Joshua Campbell nearly died at birth, but he rallied right after his father, Charles, promised that the infant would grow up to be God’s servant at their South Carolina commune. Joshua has been extraordinarily lucky ever since, walking away from numerous crashes and explosions unharmed. For Charles, the author of a book called The Lost Gospels and founder of The Church of His Son, every close shave is further proof that his son is a second Christ, come to judge the world. Last time, the “Messiah was weak,” Charles declares, and his new gospel is one of violent vengeance. As Joshua grows into a man, he prays for the world’s sins but struggles with his love of pop culture, alcohol, and women. His longtime friend Jeremy Ludlow draws him into a sleazy underworld of drugs and sex, but Joshua also gets a chance at traditional family life after he marries Jeremy’s sister, Danielle, and they have a daughter, Lily. Meanwhile, Charles, in cahoots with conservative senator and president-elect Burkhart, engineers a devastating scheme to fulfill his own prophecies. It all leads to a climactic, Quentin Tarantino–esque finale in which Joshua delivers a televised speech. Tullius crafts a plausible conspiracy plot in this novel, and he shrewdly reveals the dangers of relying on social media reaction as a sign of success, as in scenes of Joshua popping pain pills and swigging whiskey on the 47th floor of the church’s opulent new complex in Las Vegas, awaiting the results of a “Messiah vote.” It also offers a convincing depiction of an unholy partnership between politics and religion; The Church of His Son, for example, is portrayed as being part business and part theatre. However, there’s an unpleasantly macho feel to the novel, with its gratuitously pornographic scenes and the fact that most of the female characters serve only as objects of male fantasy.
A compelling, if sometimes-lurid, picture of a faith gone wrong.