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.
After much deliberation concerning the weighty question of the candidate I wish to support to become the next the President of these United States of American, I have chosen to endorse Mr. Ab Ennis of Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.
Mr. Ennis escaped Russia in 1906 at the age of twenty-one to seek his fortune in America and to avoid the Czar’s draft.
He learned English from reading girlie magazines. His literary tastes took a turn for the better while reading Lolita, the masterpiece of his fellow Russian emigré Vladimir Nabokov. This experience taught him that erotica is compatible with fancy prose.
Either through shyness or a wish to keep his moral reputation impeccable, he kept many of his book reviews and other scribblings in a shoebox, which he stashed behind a secret still in his landlady’s attic. He has spent a lifetime working on a Tolstoy-sized novel on post-Revolutionary Russia entitled Nyet! This unfinished manuscript was discovered by an anonymous editor, who, with a grant from the National Endowment for Dead Book Reviewers, is currently translating the book from Russian into Yiddish. It is due for publication in 2020.
Ennis was posthumously awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002, though the news of this honor has been kept from the American public by the influential New York publishing establishment. This slight of Mr. Ennis, whose work is well-known in Europe, is considered by several reputable experts to be a major cause of the rift between America and the Continent.
More on this candidate, his political party, and his running mate, in subsequent blogs.
Room 345C of the Church of the Wide Open Door was the size and shape of a small concert hall and was furnished with well- padded seats. Benny arrived late and seated himself at the rear. The senior minister, a young man named Sean, was listing the ministries a prospective member might choose to join. If your interest happened to be politics, he explained, there were cells of Christian Republicans and Christian Democrats, as well as a fellowship for the Christian Independents. If your interest happened to be the abortion issue, there were cells for both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, and oh yes, he remembered, a new cell was just getting underway, calling itself . . . the Christian Confuseds. The audience, following the script, laughed. True to its eighteen-month tradition of non-judgmental openness, the minister went on, the church sponsored chapters of both the National Organization of Christian Women and the Christian Promise Keepers. There was also a wide range of Christian support groups, for recovering alcoholics, substance abusers, sex addicts, wife beaters, husband naggers (laughter), gays, straights (more laughter), Jews (nervous laughter: was the minister being anti-Semitic?), Catholics (he was building up to something!), and oh yes . . . Baptists (an explosion of mirth that landed a quarter of the audience on the floor).
Paul Enns Wiebe perpetually asks himself, "What do I want to write when I grow up?"