A former boy preacher finds it easier to shuck off religion than his father in this limp first novel.
The boy stands on the stage in a movie theater, bearing witness before a congregation 4,000 strong. They are members of an apocalyptic cult, Brothers in the Lord, and 12-year-old Josiah Laudermilk electrifies them by announcing the year of the End: 2000. In this Queens, New York, theater in 1980, Josiah has heard a voice and seen a vision. His parents, Gill and Ida, have been treating him as a divine messenger since a very pregnant Ida was dunked and reborn. Yet Josiah is still a child, an only child clutching his Star Wars lucky charm, and lonely as hell until he makes friends with little Issy and, later, the girl next door, Bhanu from Bangladesh. Then they disappear, first Issy (an unsolved abduction) and later Bhanu (swimming-pool accident). At times, it seems as though Cheshire’s theme of religious faith and its flawed practitioners will disappear too, as the novel drifts between Queens and Southern California. Josiah moves there after Gill becomes increasingly weird, attempting to start his own religion and insisting on bathing rules; his own faith ended in his teens, quietly, without drama. In California, improbably, Josiah becomes a retail mogul with four computer stores (three will disappear) and meets Sarah, a Jewish translator, who stays out of focus, as does their subsequent marriage. A trial separation ends with 9/11, when they have “goodbye-forever” sex and the dominoes fall: pregnancy, abortion, divorce. Josiah returns briefly to Queens to find his father gripped by religious mania, fasting so that he’s skin and bones and sleeping next to a half-filled tub in the bathroom (it’s all in Revelation).
A lackluster attempt to see a religious subculture refracted through individual lives.