Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Review: The Chosen

Title: The Chosen
Author: John G Hartness
Genre: Religious Urban Fantasy/Dark Humor
Publisher: Createspace
Price: $7.99 Kindle Edition 4.95
Pages: 206
ISBN: 978-1453770627
Point of Sale: Amazon.com
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Our story opens at a Las Vegas casino, specifically at the gambling tables, where we find Lucky (Lucifer) and Big A having at a game of blackjack. Big A or rather, Adam -- yes that Adam -- and Lucky are trying to do a little bit o' the smash and grab at the tables, Lucky counting cards, and Big A trying to pass off 25 year-old chips from a long-demolished casino. This, of course, doesn't work. However, Adam and Lucifer's run-in at the casino is anything but coincidence, and Adam knows it. In days to come, an old girlfriend will be thrust back into his life along with a child he didn’t know he had.

This book reminded me of the movie Dogma. It's style and campy flavor reminiscent of the pulp-fiction religious satire you'll find in that film. The physical events in the book are relatively mundane. It’s a road trip story filled with bars, diners, strip clubs, and casinos. Your disenchanted group of derelicts on a quest type story. Pretty standard fare, no dead bodies, zombies, explosions, glowing briefcases, or anything interesting like that, but the subtle moments along the way, the actual conversations, which are primarily used for exposition, make it a fun read.

It was the mid-eighties and I’d gotten pretty tired of the New York music scene, what with all the pretty boys and androgyny going around. I’ve never looked very good in neon clothes, and while I didn’t mind the earrings, it’s always been important to me to be able to tell the boys from the girls. So I headed to the one place where New Wave had not gotten much of a foothold: Texas.

And of course this one from Michael when Adam asks when he became "British."

“Just now. It’s a pretentious decade and I can’t possibly fit in without an appropriately posh accent.”

And there were some very man-tastic sentimental moments, like when Adam describes his attraction to Eve.

"She laughed whenever she felt like laughing, and was so moved at the beauty of the sunset that she wept, big tears rolling down her cheeks to nestle in the hollow of her throat and collarbone while she grinned a grin that kept the sun up a couple extra minutes just to bask in her light.

So yeah, we fell in love. I guess we invented it, at least among mortals. The Seraphim had a whole different level of love working, what with their nigh-infinite intellect and capacity for emotion and all. But we fell in love, and we had babies, and then we had an unfortunate interaction with a certain Seraph with ambition that had managed to lose a celestial corporate takeover bid and develop a reputation as the most disgruntled of employees. You all know how that turned out. Then there was the whole Cain inventing murder episode, and things spiraled out of control between Eve and I, and that all culminated in a certain number of butterflies in my stomach as I sat in a relatively disgusting bar in New Orleans watching my ultimate first wife take her top off for dollar bills."

The book raises some interesting religious questions, albeit through some very gritty skepticism. Some overly sensitive readers might find themselves offended by the fact that Adam is a basic low-life drifter, that Cain is still a psychotic bad-ass, and that Eve works at a strip club. Oh how far the fallen have fallen. Not to mention that Archangel Michael is a fast-talking double-dealing troublemaker who makes Lucky Lucifer seem like a saint, which he is, sort of, but no spoilers here. In general, the entire cast of characters is what you would expect in a spaghetti western. Everyone is sarcastic and everyone has a few one-liners. It's not the funniest dark religious comedy I have ever experienced, but the plot is interesting. I did like the fact that Eve was set-up in the garden and that God, The Father, was the one who set her up, not Satan, and knowing this, had allowed her to carry that guilt for an eternity until she drives herself mad. God, The Father, comes off here like a manipulative dick and Archangel Michael as nothing more than a toady, like is brother seraphim Lucifer. This is the story of the Bible, in a sense, if the Lone Gunmen had been the scribes. We've got a lot if conspiracy theory here and a lot of conceptual religious scrutiny, scrutiny that makes you think about shit for minute or two, especially when Adam calls the Bible "a novel." Yes, it's also the kind of religious scrutiny that pisses people off, so again, this isn't a book for sensitive religious types.

Despite quite a bit of editorial awkwardness, this book was an enjoyable read from start to finish. There's not a whole lot of action here, but the drunken philosophical debates, the sarcastic monologues directed at the reader, and all the snappy one-liners move the story along at a nice pace. The chapters are very short, which makes sense because the book actually started out as a serial on Hartness' website. The brevity of the chapters, however, really made the editorial issues stand out, and there were a lot of editorial issues: fiddly bits that a decent proofreader should have caught, issues that readers will notice. The biggest problem area for me was with the dialog. There were strange dialog tags, incorrect punctuation before the tags, and some areas where dialog tags were missing altogether, which made me have to go back and reread portions to figure out who was actually speaking. This was particularly difficult when the dialog of one character was combined in the same paragraph with the narrative voice of another. Some readers might also find the dialog over-expository, resulting in a lot of sitting-around talking type situations at the expense of the plot. The plot being the group's quest to find some general nobody, who, after thousands of years and millions of other people, has been randomly chosen to make another "Great Choice" thus determining the fate of humanity. Tall order. The group has to trek across the country to find this modern nibble head and make sure he/she makes the right choice, whatever that might be, and save humanity. By half-way through the story, the merry band of immortal fucktards has just barely managed to stop hating on each other long enough to get the plot in gear: the merry band of players being Adam, Michael, Adam's first son Cain and his last daughter Emily, his ex-wife Eve, and his ex-girlfriend Myra. Lucifer sets the plot in motion and then you don't see him again until midway through the story where he appears "just to talk" for only about a minute, but don't worry, he takes center stage during the choice making session, and he ain't the bad guy.

So is there a point to be made here? Sure. There's a lot of "being who you are" metaphors, some loosely thrown about ten commandment type stuff, and a few overt stabs at the accuracy of the Bible such as this when Adam tells the Chosen one that he is not Christian:

“Junior. Take a deep breath. Now let’s remember, I am Old Testament. I predate Christianity by about 50 millennia, give or take a couple thousand years. I met the Carpenter. The Nazarene was a good kid, but he wasn’t the first or the last to speak that speech, so I’m not inclined to follow some hippie kid just because he says the Father loves us all. I know the true face of my Father’s love, and I know I don’t need an intermediary to get me there. All I need to do to talk to God is talk to him. I don’t need to do it just on Sundays, or just in rooms with a lotta stained glass, or just through a mouthpiece. Now I liked the Carpenter. He did some good things, and he had a fantastic speaking voice. But I’m a little more old school in my religion. A little more direct, if you get my drift.”

Take it for what it is. Overall, the story has a great concept. Eve made her choice in the Garden so that Adam wouldn't have to make one, ever, or so she thought, but that deal was a lie, or rather, a misdirection, and now Adam will have to make his own choice, which is all tangled together with the choice of the "other." There is a pulp flavor to the comedy, and all the players are gritty wisecracking wannabe gangstas. Biblical gangstas that is. So if you don't mind your Christianity dressed in black -- a black velvet thong and cowboy boots -- and you don't mind your saviors tattooed and pierced like a pin-cushion, not to mention all the bar brawls and Angels who drink, swear, and muck things up, then you will love this story. I sure did. It's a snarky satirical Sunday school adventure for mature adults, so if you weren’t even the least offended by the movie Dogma, then you will love this book.



John G. Hartness said...

Thanks a bunch for taking the time to review The Chosen. I appreciate the kind words and am glad you enjoyed the ride.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I just love me some gritty characters, and this was an interesting take on the Adam and Eve story, so kudos to you!

Michael N. Marcus said...

While book titles can't be copyrighted, it seems silly to use a title already used for six books.

Chaim Potok's "The Chosen" is quite famous. It was nominated for the National Book Award and was on the NY Times bestseller list for six months. More than a million copies were sold, and the novel was made into a movie and a Broadway musical.

Any writer considering possible titles should check for previous uses.