A collection of short stories centers on the time of Jesus.
Casper’s (The Sing Song Child, 2015) first tale in this volume begins with a carpenter with a withered hand. Although the man did well for himself, at one point he angered the wrong Pharisee and people began to wonder if his deformity was a curse from God. When the carpenter meets Jesus, his hand is miraculously healed. The story has its origins in the Gospel of Mark, and most of the other tales here also have their bases in the New Testament. There is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus; the quelling of a tempest by Jesus on the Sea of Galilee; and the changing of water into wine at a wedding celebration. Portions that stray from biblical material include “Right Hand Man,” a firsthand account of a robber and murderer who is crucified on Golgotha, and “Thief,” which features letters Judas Iscariot, “that rodent of a man,” writes to himself. One foray into more modern times involves a demon’s attempt to trick a dying war veteran. Each story is written in plain language, as in “Thief” (“He cleared his throat. I could see tears streaming down his cheeks”), and kept relatively short, about 10 pages or less. Some of these brief narratives work well in humanizing otherwise opaque situations. What might it feel like to be a criminal in the time of Jesus and suffer crucifixion for a misdeed? The story of the robber skillfully drives home the brutality of Roman rule, not to mention the nearly inconceivable idea of being personally involved in one of the most famous narratives of all time. By contrast, more familiar tales are somewhat less thrilling. The man with the withered hand doesn’t have a whole lot in his backstory of interest. Sure, the Pharisee he angered was hypocritical and the protagonist jokingly admits that he was a better carpenter than Jesus, but such details hardly make him memorable. Likewise, the rendition of Saul’s miraculous change does not add much to the biblical telling. Nevertheless, the pieces progress smoothly and are strongest when expanding on (in an easy-to-read manner) what any reader with a loose understanding of the New Testament already knows.
While not every offering will surprise readers, these tales provide new ways of looking at biblical figures.