That a dropout from a rabbinical school in upstate New York, an ordinary young man with the ordinary young ambition of moving to Hollywood and becoming a ﬁlm star, should be chosen to discover and translate the now-famous Bear Lake Scrolls and then to establish what quickly has become the fastest-growing religion in America, seems incredible. I must confess that when Father Lustlieb ﬁrst told me his story, I too was skeptical. In fact, I thought it was a joke. But after spending eleven years in his illustrious presence and giving his testimony careful and prayerful study, I am convinced that Alazon Lustlieb was exactly who he claimed to be: a true prophet, and an authentic saint.
The advantage of living in Inverness back in the forties and fifties was the number of churches you could choose from, nine, which averaged out to one hundred souls per religion. The advantage of being born into the Mennonite religion was that you didn’t need to waste your time shopping around for a church with a better plan for working out your differences with the Almighty. The advantage of belonging to the Reisender clan was that you had no end of family reunions—and in those days a family reunion was considered just about the highest form of recreation. In our case a reunion was the only form of recreation, being the one pleasurable activity that could stand up to Grandpa’s two strict tests: a religious connection, and affordability.
Mother came from a long line of French atheists. But while she was heavy with my younger brother Jean-Pierre, she took a stroll on a Chestnut Hill green, where she was caught in a thunderstorm; a bolt of lightning knocked her to the ground, causing her to have what she came to call a religious experience. She was quickly carted off to Massachusetts General, where, on waking, she became a Christian for life. But she had trouble settling on a single denomination. Not long after finding a new church that better fit her shifting theological tastes, she would move on to another. This was largely because, as Father would say on those occasions when I accompanied him to his weekly Liszt-and-rose affairs, the church she’d most recently abandoned wasn’t consistent with the social advances he had made and the views that went with them.
Sacred Books & Sky Hooks plows a field near those tilled by Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), Jon Krakauer (Under the Banner of Heaven), and Bart Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted). It should also appeal to those who read such skeptics as Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens).
On a bleak, frigid morning on the Fifteenth of March some forty years ago, I entered the world, courtesy of Renée Swift, née Arouet. While she and I were in the delivery room at Massachusetts General, my father, J. Ethan Swift II, JD, was pacing the halls outside, hoping for a boy to continue his good name. The gods smiled on him, and I was christened J. Ethan Swift III, with a JD to follow.
Father liked to say that he was “of the Dooblin Swifts,” though he had left Ireland and run off to London when he was barely seventeen. He’d been born into a Catholic family but when he turned twenty-one and moved to Boston he became what he was pleased to call “a staunch, born-again Unitarian.” He had come to prefer the music of Liszt to that of Palestrina, he’d often say, and a rose supported by a vase on top of a piano to a statue of the Virgin standing in a dusty alcove.
Sacred Books & Sky Hooks is a genre-bending novel, mixing a few nonfictional elements with fiction. The short nonfiction is an investigation of the religious myths created by the founder of Summum (Corky Ra), Joseph Smith, and the Apostle Paul. The fictional parts consist of love stories, a kidnapping, and several dead bodies. The narrator acts as both a prosecutor of and a defense attorney for the three mythmakers. An FBI agent helps him solve crimes and tries to keep him safe from a nemesis with murder on his mind.
Of the many things that need stamping out, racism is no doubt the one that should be first in line, to be followed of course by all the other bad habits that keep us Americans from achieving the perfect nation toward which we are, or should be, progressing.
We all agree that the list of these habits is a long one. One could begin with the Seven Deadlies: pride, greed or covetousness, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. To this Christian list could be added such obvious ones as hatred, stupidity, stealing, vengeance, murder, suicide, lying, cheating—the list, it seems, is endless.
But here the thought occurs: Why not just stamp out sin as such?
The advantages of working on sin are obvious. First, this bad habit is the root of all the others. It is encompassing. Second, it is doable. If racism can be stamped out, as we should all recognize, why not all the other bad habits? And if all the others, why not future habits of which we now have only an inkling?
We can reasonably hope that by following this path, we will finally achieve the more perfect union of which our sainted forebears spoke.
I couldn’t see the priest’s face, but I could smell the alcohol. He wanted to steer our little chat in the direction of sins, mine in particular, but I had this gnawing curiosity about hell and purgatory and the difference betwixt. About the time my curiosity got the best of me, he quick excused himself, so instead of givin’ me an up-front answer he gave me an assignment. “Don’t come back,” he barked as he stood up, “until you’ve read all about hell and purgatory in The Catholic Encyclopedia!”
At which point he skedaddled.
Well, this ol’ gal followed his cue. I got the hell out of that hot, cramped box and watched him go pigeon-toein’ off to the little boys room in the garb his business called for, lookin’ like one of them wind-up soldier dolls that were big back in the days of my youth. Right-left-right-left-right-left, swishin’ back and forth at pronto velocity in zig-zag mode.
From those who have read it.
"Hôtel Adiós has all manner of tweaks and quirks that keep the reader at times off-kilter, puzzled, and delighted. It is both absurd and dripping with true insights . . . Wiebe treats the page like a playground, a stage, and a soapbox from which to shout his wild notions."
--Julie Miesionczek, Independent Editor, formerly with Random House.
"With my delight and admiration."
--Paul Harding, author of Tinkers, winner of a Pulitzer Prize in fiction.
Mr. Ennis remains active despite his wife’s decision to follow his instructions to cremate him after his death; though his brain now shares the ashen state of his former body, it is still able to function—read, write, talk, go to movies and an occasional play, concert, opera, etc.—all with the aid of his non-deceased companion, Ms. Betsy Bedwell.
Paul Enns Wiebe perpetually asks himself, "What do I want to write when I grow up?"