The author of two novels set around Boston (In Revere, In Those Days, 2002, etc.) switches to religious allegory.
The working-class Italian characters in Merullo’s earlier books would probably be startled to learn that “there are 8,187 golf courses in heaven” and that “God golfs.” Narrator Herman Fins-Winston is perfectly happy playing a few rounds and relaxing in heaven, but God’s game has developed problems, and He/She enlists Herman to provide a few pointers. That’s what Herman (professional name Hank Winston) did down on Earth as a golf coach after he blew a crucial shot and dropped out of the PGA tour in the 1950s. Some 30 mortal years later, he’s dead but still has unfinished spiritual business; God’s case of “the yips” (the inability to make short putts) is a pretext for getting Herman back to Earth to put him through a series of tests that, if he passes, will enable him to achieve his true destiny as a golf champion. The set-up is strained, but just as the reader is prepared to scream if subjected to one more accepting-the-divine-order-is-like-accepting-golf sermon, or another bizarre set of 18 holes with (for example) Jesus, Mary and Moses, Merullo partly redeems his story of absurdity by applying his wonderful skills of observation and reflection. Playing at elite courses like Augusta National, with God accompanying him in the form of an attractive young wife, Herman encounters compelling characters both human (an abrasive son and worried father) and semi-divine (a marvelously earthy “scout” who may be a reincarnation of Herman’s father). He learns something from each game, especially the one with Satan, and even his lust for God’s female body takes him closer to the “intimacy with the divine intelligence” that he really craves. Some fine prose and a genuine sense of spiritual longing make this better than the premise would suggest.
Adventuresome—but Merullo’s fans will still be waiting for that promised third installment of the Revere Beach Trilogy.