Impressive speculative fiction, and a bracing tonic for an election year.

AMERICAN SAVIOR

Smart, funny yet dead serious Second Coming novel from Merullo (Breakfast with Buddha, 2007, etc.), who has Jesus offering America spiritual renewal by way of a run for the White House.

Russ Thomas is an ambitious TV reporter in a small market, West Zenith, Mass. The 30-year-old narrator has nice hair and a great girlfriend in Zelda, a skilled therapist. His boss Wales, a jaded TV veteran, has Russ investigate a strange event: A boy has fallen off a fire escape, died and been revived by a mysterious stranger. Next, a terminally ill girl in the local hospital is cured by the same stranger’s magic touch. The Good Visitor, as Wales dubs him, summons Russ to a café rendezvous. He introduces himself as Jesus (“Hay-Zeus, to my Spanish-speaking friends”) and explains that he wants Russ and Zelda to quit their jobs and work on his presidential campaign. Somewhat disarmed by this nice but obviously nutty guy’s magnetism, cynical Russ has no intention of giving up his paycheck—until down-to-earth Zelda has a vision. That does it, and Russ gives notice, only to discover his boss is already onboard. Russ’s Jewish father, Catholic mother and Down syndrome brother also join the inner circle. These ordinary, fallible people will be Jesus’s staff. Why pick us, the insecure Russ wonders, but Zelda gets it: “we’re all worthy.” Merullo grounds his story superbly, understanding that the more we believe in his human characters, the more we’ll believe in Jesus, who has his own American background: Caucasian father (deceased), Navajo mother (a quietly reassuring presence) who home-schooled him on the reservation. Is he all-knowing? “I let there be gaps.” What is his platform? “I’m running on the Beatitudes.” And run he does, indulging in campaign hoopla, but no more miracles, and confronting his fiercest enemies, the Christian Right. Jesus gains in the polls, and Merullo handles the horse race smoothly, but the most riveting element here is the interaction between fearful humanity and this convincing embodiment of divine love.

Impressive speculative fiction, and a bracing tonic for an election year.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-56512-607-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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