“If Jesus Christ were to come to-day, people would not even crucify him. They would ask him to dinner, and hear what he had to say, and make fun of it.”
– Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881
The first so-called “red letter edition” of the Bible’s New Testament was published in 1900, with every word believed to have been said by Jesus printed in red, and the rest in the traditional black ink. More recently, the controversial members of the Jesus Seminar have voted on various quotations said to come directly from the mouth of Jesus, using red beads for what they consider to be the authentic, he-really-said-it phrases.
The bolding-in-red of the words spoken by Christ during the second coming would be far easier to fact-check in modern times — especially, for example, as the video camera is running in the police interrogation room when the Son of God gets pulled in and accused of illegal firearm possession and a terrorism-related charge. And so when a new gospel is penned by John, the ranking FBI officer involved, the words in red are direct from the mouth of the Messiah.
The Final Testament Of The Holy Bible (2011) tells of the son of a Holocaust survivor, born circumcised as has been prophesied, brother to a born-again Christian named Jacob. Jacob beats their sister and mother, and cast out brother Ben Zion Avrohom from the family home as soon as he could.
Ben Zion has had a hard life. What can he do but chug booze, do drugs and visit strip clubs while awaiting the magic age of 30, when he knows God will begin to speak to him directly. (Although he then gives up the alcohol and pot, it should be noted that the post-revelation Jesus is even more of a slut than before.)
The 16 books in this final testament are written by Jesus’ acquaintances and companions, as they tell of the Messiah’s life in New York City and ‘burbs, with His every utterance in red (including “Yeah,” “Hello,” “Okay,” and “Do you believe I am?”). But there’s lots of paraphrasing, too.
Mariaangeles writes: “I ask where he been living before this and he says he don’t want to talk about it. Answers made me sad. I always
thought white people had good lives. Even the worst of ’em had it better off than me and everybody I knew. Just what I believed. But this boy didn’t have it better. Worse. Just him and his video games and his shitty apartment that no one else would live in. I had my girl and my family at least. He had it way worse.”
The authors include family members, lovers, a doctor, addicts, preachers, and a lunatic survivalist, all telling pieces of a life in parallel to one lived some 2,000 years ago. Each uses the Son of God for their own ends.
This is not a subtle read (though the writing certainly flows). Author James Frey is himself a writer seeking redemption, having watched his career collapse when it was revealed that his brutal, drug-soaked biography, A Million Little Pieces, was largely fakery. While finally admitting that some anecdotes within it were made up, Frey has often argued that truth can come out of fiction, even as it is labelled non-fiction.
He continues to play such games, thanking each gospel writer personally, as if they were real. In doing so, Frey clearly hopes to continue to push his ideas about “truth” in non-fiction.
Or perhaps the whole book is just one giant joke.
OTHER NEW ARRIVALS
Alice Zorn’s Arrhythmia (2011) is a first novel and is set in Montreal, the characters all connected to a hospital (Zorn works part-time in one where, she has written, “people use crazy words like choledocholithiasis and endarterectomy”). It’s a book about couples (romantic and friendly), relationships, betrayal and (a little bit of willful) ignorance.
For fun, also check out the award-winning Zorn’s blog at alicezorn.blogspot.com/.
Shannon Cowan’s Tin Angel (2007) is rated Young Adult. Thirteen-year-old Ronalda (Ronnie) Page lives with her parents and older sister in a crumbling rural home without electricity, desperately in debt and trapped by snow. Within a year, Ronnie is charged with murdering Louis Moss, a man who has adopted the family and turned Ronnie into a bitter angry mess.
She’s found not guilty, but that doesn’t give Ronnie her life back. Gossip and suspicion will dog her always (“It is a lonely thing to have strangers wishing you death”). Tin Angel — it’s a Joni Mitchell tune — tells the story of what leads up to Louis’ death, against the backdrop of the year 1970 (Vietnam War, FLQ Crisis, and more).
Ronnie is book-smart but otherwise stupid, confronted by hormones, small town nastiness and mean girls. A coming of age novel with a bit more angst than most teens ever have to deal with.
All the books reviewed here are in the Lennoxville Library’s New Arrivals section. The Final Testament Of The Holy Bible is printed as would be some modern Bibles, in black and stored in a slip cover. Its publisher is a high-end art gallery, the Gagosian, with multiple locations in Europe, New York, and Beverly Hills.
– Eleanor Brown, August 29, 2011