A slacker Christ proffers dubious miracles and murky teachings in this tale of squalid redemption.
The nameless narrator of this hangdog gospel is a 20-year-old college student living at home in the generic suburb of Birchwood Forest and dreading his prospects in a world of money-grubbing materialism. Then signs and wonders jolt his ennui—after an impromptu baptism, an invisible voice booms, “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”—and finally his doting mother spells things out: He is the offspring of an immaculate conception and the savior of the world. The nonplussed, decidedly lower-case savior doesn’t feel especially divine or well-disposed toward humanity, but he starts to invest every inane misadventure with a biblical resonance: a dead-end job at a hardware store becomes a temptation by Satan, and a symbolic resurrection occurs when he tries to free his brother from an emasculating girlfriend by ensnaring her in a vomit-garnished make-out session. He goes on to gain as disciples a jive-talking gas-station clerk and a bum who spouts mediocre surrealist poetry, and elaborates a sophomoric spiritual critique of the sterile conformism of suburbia and the corporate world. Haddad situates the savior in a well-observed landscape of soulless strip-malls, nondescript subdivisions and grungy student hangouts. He writes with a vivid particularism and flair when he focuses on this hellishly mundane setting and the troubled, quirky souls that inhabit it. Unfortunately, the novel is usually turned inward toward the savior’s fustian ruminations on morality, society and, most of all, himself. (“Instead of being a part of the whole, I was apart from everything. I was apart from people because I was God and apart from God because I was human. I was apart from people because I hated them and apart from God because I was here on earth, in this utopia turned dystopia.”) These interminable monologues will leave readers longing for pithier sermons.
There’s an evocative sketch of modern anomie in here—underneath mounds of dreary navel-gazing.