Hendra—a founding editor of National Lampoon; a player in This Is Spinal Tap—follows his bestselling memoir about his spiritual mentor (Father Joe, 2004) with a debut novel detailing the near-future Second Coming.
The United States is a theocracy. The Christian Right has triumphed. Mere blasphemy is a crime in this militarized and vengeful nation. The second messiah will not be crucified but lethally injected in a Christian-run prison in Texas. All of this we learn from the prologue. Narrator Johnny Greco claims to be the Judas figure here, though that’s a misnomer. He’s an aging journalist who has seen better days, which, for one thing, brought him a Pulitzer; now he works for a sleazy Internet outfit, pursuing rumors of a miracle worker in the northeast. What sets this charlatan apart from others is his lack of interest in publicity. Johnny first catches sight of him in a Connecticut court, where he’s charged with practicing medicine without a license after curing a woman’s leukemia. He gets six months. The messiah is known as Jay. He was raised in the Bronx by his Guatemalan immigrant mother; his Irish father was seldom around. Jay is not exactly the picture of ethereal beauty, but he posseses undeniable charisma, as Johnny discovers once they’ve met one-on-one. Jay has returned to “refresh the message,” he says; contemporary Christianity he finds “unrecognizable.” Johnny’s sessions with Jay are the novel’s high points—Jay’s combination of strength and sweetness is remarkably poignant. Hendra’s narrative is less compelling when he satirizes the “fundos” (fundamentalists) and their leader, the Reverend James Sabbath, who’s in cahoots with the presidential administration, which is planning an attack on Israel and Europe. Could this be Armageddon? The author relies too heavily on spectacle (a faith-based Oscars ceremony; a rally at Madison Square Garden) and miracles, though Jay would have his followers “believe without miracles.” Once Jay publicly preaches pacifism, the jig is up. His “blasphemy” is tantamount to treason, punishable by death.
A moving portrait of a messiah within a so-so satire, but with just enough edge to get media and readers’ attention.