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.