This seemingly ordinary memoir takes a messianic turn.
The most striking thing about the first half of Chally’s debut is how not striking it is. In a series of readable, straightforward chapters, he tells the story of his first 34 years, from birth in Illinois to youth in Iowa. The narrative expands in 1988, when settling a petty larceny offense prompted him to take the option of entering the military; he was then stationed in Germany in support of Operation Desert Shield, then Operation Desert Storm. Chally met a young woman named Patricia and married her in Iowa in 1991, and they began to raise a family. He writes about the pain of losing his grandfather and the turtles and snakes he saw in the Mojave Desert; in a friendly but unremarkable way, he recounts such everyday things as working construction, going to rock concerts, getting a tattoo, being a young father, playing video games, and so on. Trouble gathers at the peripheries of his story: casual mentions of a sleepless week high on crystal meth, for instance, or mounting problems with the IRS over a large debt. Gradually, Chally approached rock bottom and was charged with public intoxication, at which point he reached out for support: “I then picked up the Bible and was asking God for help.” So far, it’s a narrative as old as Saint Augustine. But as Chally commenced studying the Bible, his life took a new, bizarre direction. He began seeing visions and delved deeply into the various numerological arcana of biblical writing. Not much later, he came to think of himself as an anointed messiah, a Chosen One bearing witness to mankind. His family members intervened and took him to the hospital, where, at the age of 35, he underwent a battery of psychological exams, the outcomes of which he faithfully reproduces here. The result is a curious dual narrative: on one side, the author steadfastly proclaiming himself to be mankind’s savior, a direct channel of God’s will; on the other side, a straightforward presentation of all the personal, psychological, and pharmacological reasons the world might disbelieve every word herein.
A strange, split memoir.