This novel defies classification, and that’s part of what makes it – as well as James’ other works – so stunning. In this, his first novel, James creates a kind of religious-western-u/dystopian-apocalyptic-genre-and-sexual-bending showdown. In the village of Gibbeah, it’s Apostle York vs. Pastor Bligh, or so it seems. One is tempted, as the person writing the blurb was, to reach for the magical realism of Marquez and its more grounded cousin found in Morrison, for comparison. There are birds – crows and devils. There is someone who dies by stepping on grass and someone else who is healed by acknowledging his own sexuality. And there is sex. A lot of it, and little of it romantic, and none for the faint of heart. (James, here as elsewhere, is not shy – no page breaks or coy euphemisms for him. The sex, and everything else in this book, is both brutal and honest.)
As always, James’ prose, particularly his dialogue, absolutely pops off the page. All the letters are familiar, but it seems like James just has access to a different alphabet. The imagery of what the Widow sees when she finally opens the Pastor’s door is both gorgeous and haunting. And the ending, the ending. I wanted it, but didn’t believe the story could find its way there, to a glimmer of hope, held by the one set of hands I really want to trust.
A completely stunning and most assuredly original novel. It’ll stay with you.