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American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politicsby Roland Merullo
Synopses & Reviews
What if Jesus suddenly appeared and announced that he planned to run for President of the United States? Yes, that Jesus. And what if a well-meaning but utterly inexperienced band of disciples not only helped him mount a seat-of-the-pants campaign but also ran it well, getting millions of people to support him and in the process throwing the other two major party candidates — as well as the world's news media — into a frenzy as they scramble to discredit him?
Roland Merullo's bitingly clever satirical novel about the state of American politics follows one man's campaign to bring back goodness and kindness (real goodness and kindness this time) in a country that has fallen into a divisive state of fear and hatred. Merullo takes us into the heart of a nation in grave spiritual danger as the Son of man sets out to make everyone realize that politics as usual is no longer an acceptable alternative.
American Savior is a remarkably innovative novel that challenges our perceptions and beliefs while it wags a finger at the folly of our self-righteousness. It is sure to cause controversy among those for whom politics itself has become a kind of religion.
"When Jesus Christ turns up in West Zenith, Mass., Catholics, Jews and atheists unite to help him realize his plan of becoming America's next president in this hilarious novel from Merullo (Breakfast with Buddha). Chief adviser to the 'Jesus for America' campaign is Russ Thomas, a cynical TV journalist who sets out to convince the American public that Jesus is the real deal. Jesus' chances of being elected seem slim as he faces skepticism from both ends of the political spectrum over his platform of 'kindness and goodness' and the fact that he names his mother as his running mate. But as Jesus hits the campaign trail, Russ and his team begin to have faith in their candidate, themselves and humanity. Most enjoyable are the takedowns of thinly veiled political journalists: there's loud-mouthed, insult-spewing Anne Canter and Bulf Spritzer, 'a decent guy [who] can never quite convince the viewer that he isn't ecstatic about being in the limelight.' The result is, for the most part, an uproarious satire, hampered only by Merullo's occasional slips into the preachiness about morality that he so harshly mocks." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Given the fawning coverage of Barack Obama during this election season, a story about Jesus Christ coming back to Earth and running for president seems almost redundant. But "American Savior" is blessed with enough gentle humor to keep this "novel of divine politics" fresh and even a little inspiring. The author, Roland Merullo, is developing something of a specialty in comic fiction with religious... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) overtones or, if you prefer, religious fiction with comic overtones. In a previous novel, "Breakfast with Buddha," a publishing executive drives across America with a Mongolian monk; enlightenment ensues. And before that, Merullo published "Golfing with God," about a golf pro in heaven trying to pull the Big Guy's game out of a slump. The set-up for "American Savior" sounds like the answer to a satirist's prayer, but the story never rips into our political system with the kind of bitterness you might expect. The narrator, Russ Thomas, is an affable TV reporter for a local station in western Massachusetts. He opens the novel by telling us, "My whole way of looking at life was turned upside down." He knows we'll be skeptical (he was skeptical at first, too), but he goes on to tell us about the man who called himself Jesus and ran for president of the United States. It all starts after Russ covers a few local miracles for the news. He meets someone at a coffee shop who he assumes is a crackpot. Jesus wants Russ and his girlfriend to quit their jobs and join his campaign for the presidency. "I'm going to do things differently this time," he explains. "Last time I wasn't entirely happy with the way it worked out. To be frank, it took hundreds of years for what I did to have much impact on the world, and by then things were so muddled. ... Well, you people have never really recovered. Look at the Middle East." After considerable soul-searching, Russ is convinced — sort of — that this man is the Son of God. He joins the budding presidential campaign and brings along a ragtag group of friends and relatives, including his Roman Catholic mother and his Jewish father, who's sick and tired of all these Jesus freaks but, heck, family is family. Although they know no more about winning a national election than those fishermen knew about saving humanity 2,000 years ago, they have faith. They'll need it: November is just five months away. An adviser warns Jesus: "You're going to be seen as a Jesus-Come-Lately, if you want the harsh truth." Much of the light comedy here arises from Jesus' straight-faced goodness amid the grimy mechanics of campaigning, polling and dealing with the media. When asked about the Divine Party's platform, Jesus tells his staff, "I'm running on the beatitudes." "They'll hammer you on national defense." "It would not be the first time," Jesus says. If you know the Gospels, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Jesus is a pretty savvy campaigner. The novel follows the broad outlines of the Greatest Story Ever Told but with more TV commentary. Multitudes attend Jesus' announcement rally. He arrives in a black Hummer, guarded by biker-gangsters. "You are a nation in grave spiritual danger," he tells 60,000 people — voters, protesters and fanatics. "I cannot say I will cut your taxes and raise your salaries. What I can say is that you will have a nation based on kindness and goodness." The crowd goes wild: "Jee-zus! Jee-zus! JEE-ZUS!" Merullo spends most of his satiric capital on the news media, including appearances by thinly disguised commentators you won't have any trouble recognizing, like "Jim Wearer," "Lenny Queen" and a particularly vicious beauty named Anne Canter. (On "Meet the Media," George Bill quotes from the New Testament.) The Democratic and Republican candidates aren't quite sure how to respond to this unusual opponent, but their minions quickly go negative. The Washington Times runs a front-page photo of Jesus embracing a boy with Down syndrome: "So-called Jesus Candidate Revealed To Be Gay. Former Homosexual Lover Admits to Five-Month Affair." Rather than deny those allegations, Jesus counters with a brilliantly staged stop at the West Edfort rodeo in New Mexico. He's a man's man. The next morning the Amarillo Chronicle cheers: "Candidate Christ Takes Bull By Horns." Merullo was born and raised a Roman Catholic in Boston, but his recent novels are decidedly ecumenical, with a sparkly touch of New Age spirituality. The Jesus of "American Savior" should be familiar to liberal Protestants who grew up thinking "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" was, like, really profound. (Guilty.) His theology is a brand of sweet Christian Gnosticism: "We are locked in a dream," he tells his campaign staff. Through many lives, we learn dominion over the "thought-force." He's hunky and hip and all about tolerance, like a Unitarian porn star. And please, don't call him "Lord"; he hates that. "For the record," he says, "I never came to be worshipped, not the first time and not this time. I came to be emulated." The only people Jesus is really against, in fact, are evangelical Christians and conservative politicians, who, if they read this novel, will have to keep turning the other cheek again and again. It's fun to imagine what would happen if a noble candidate threw caution to the wind and ran on a platform of universal kindness that appealed to our higher nature. Unfortunately, this Jesus' statements never strike the startling, iconoclastic note we hear in the Gospels. Instead, "American Savior" is at its best when Russ is wrestling with his conscience, trying to fathom how the election experience changed him, blessed him. Merullo knows what he's talking about. Before he started writing novels, he was a carpenter. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World. He can be reached at charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
What if Jesus suddenly appears and announces that he plans to run for president of the United States? Merullo's bitingly clever satirical novel about the state of American politics follows one man's campaign to show that politics as usual is no longer an acceptable option.
In a country divided by partisan politics, into a world torn by hatred and war, at a time when it seems that everyone and no one has a solution to the problems that plague humankind, there suddenly appears someone who can rise above the madness, someone with knowledge and power, someone with a finely tuned sense of the ridiculous—someone, in short, who can make it right.
And thus we finally have an answer to the long-simmering question, "What would Jesus do?"
Roland Merullo's novel American Savior posits an inspired "what if" scenario: What if Jesus, alarmed at how the earth's most powerful nation has lost its spiritual footing and dismayed at how His own teachings have been distorted—used by politicians and religious zealots to turn love into hatred and faith into call to arms—returns and announces that he is running for President of the United States? What if He becomes a third-party candidate, is heralded as the Son of God, and not only threatens to disrupt the status quo but poses a serious threat to the already established Democratic and Republican candidates? What would happen? How would the media react? And, more important, how would we react?
Narrated by a more than slightly cynical young TV reporter, American Savior puts the reader inside the campaign waged by what is quickly dubbed the Divinity Party and follows Jesus and his modern-day disciples as they travel across the nation making speeches, reaching out to the people, and in the process arousing the ire of those who believe they know God, and who know, most assuredly, that this is not He.
By turns amusing and heartbreaking, affirming and disturbing, American Savior is a novel sure to create controversy among those for whom self-righteousness is its own religion. Holding up a mirror to our society and the world in which we live, it is a passionate and penetrating look at the America that is and the America that could be.
About the Author
Roland Merullo, is the critically acclaimed author of seven books, including the Revere Beach Trilogy, three novels about growing up in a tight-knit community outside Boston, and Golfing with God, a novel about a man's unexpected spiritual journey. He lives with his wife and two daughters in eastern Massachusetts.
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