Apostle Islands: ‘Immediate and Accessible’ for Courses in Religion and Literature

NND and Apostle IslandsAPOSTLE ISLANDS. Fiction. By Tommy Zurhellen.
Kensington, MD: Atticus Books, 2012. Pp. 240, $14.95.

Review first appeared in Religious Studies Review (Vol 39, Number 2, June 2013)

Concepts of the miraculous morph with innovations in technology, from faith healing via radio waves to the ubiquitous interconnectedness and instant “posting” of images and opinions that characterizes our present moment.

Zurhellen’s engaging, clever novel—a sequel to his 2011 Nazareth, North Dakota—not only re-engages the narratives and forms of the NT [New Testament], it also wrestles with the tenuousness of the miraculous in relation to Youtube clips and cottage industry cures. Thus, email epistles, free-verse apocalyptic visions, a biker gang of zealous Sicarii, and a Midwestern Christ who turns a lake to wine just to keep his mother pacified blend in a text at once comic and deeply serious, treating religion under media and governmental surveillance as well as the assemblage that is the Christian scriptures.

The result is as a work rich in sorrow, hope, desperation, and holy terror. Zurhellen folds references to hair bands and get-well casseroles against re-imagined parables and desert quarantines, the humble musings of a man bearing the weight of the messianic and the mindblown rantings of the resurrected, warning of a god of “No, No, No,”—the “original God of salt and blood who told Abraham to slit his own kid’s throat/and drowned 144 000 species in a heartbeat/like brontosaurs and those cute little horses.” For it is not only the metaphysically spectacular that exists in tension with contemporary mindsets, but revolutionary moral teachings, radical communitarianism, and stark rejection of the authority of the cultural or political status quo as well. Apostle Islands renders such issues immediate and accessible.

Equally page-turning and discussion-provoking, this book would be suitable not only for courses in religion and literature, but also for classes treating early Christian communities (and religious communities more generally); representations of Jesus; and religion in the modern world.

— Spencer Dew
Centenary College of Louisiana

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