Bible delivers an elliptical, provocative novella about the profane and the spiritual, all of it drenched in sweat, sex, and booze.
In the American South, a reverend named Maloney (who also narrates) guzzles booze and indulges in sexual thoughts—not model behavior, surely. He spends a lot of time drunk at church and hangs with an assortment of down-on-their-luck types—most notably, his best friend, Eli, a chess genius whom one character accuses Maloney of using for money. Is this the case? Bible tells his story in short bursts, poetic and plainspoken; he shuffles readers from place to place, catapults them from nastiness to nastiness. Gradually a story develops, but this book is about tone: sometimes vulgar, sometimes romantic, always confrontational. In service to this tone, much of the book—characters, their back stories, their motivations—feels concealed. Certainly authors have done great work in such elliptical modes—marketing copy here cites Barry Hannah and Nicholson Baker—but the uninflected style and tone also recall newer books like Young God or Nowhere, not to mention plenty of brief, broken-seeming works emerging from indie presses. Bible wants to provoke—consider Maloney’s recurring sex dreams about the Holy Ghost or a moment when he grooms his pubic hair into the shape of a cross or musings on whether or not Jesus had wet dreams—but his attempts at provoking are, well, sort of dull and conventional. Familiar in form and profane content, the novella takes no real risks. “Failure is the most interesting trait,” Bible writes early on, and he has a point. Ultimately, this novella is too cloistered, too fashionable, too safe to do much failing, and Bible’s ambition to be interesting and different disappears into the book’s ellipses.
An “experimental” novel that manages mostly to be conventionally unconventional.