Rev. Lamblove rides again! It is as if one of Flannery O'Connor's preachers has come to life, and and become manically melded into a character from Alice in Wonderland
. Through this extraordinary creation, Russell Rathbun gives us an (I'm afraid) all too realistic portrayal of the obsession and paranoia necessary for preachers who engage in reading Bible texts, plunging into, and being carried off by, unexpected avenues of meaning.
, Undergoing God
It begins with a lawyer and a pastor walking into a bar, almost like a self-conscious joke. But Rathbun's newest novella is no comedy. Immediately, the plot warps itself, like the undulating barstools of the first chapter, into part horror, part theologizing, and part Alice in Wonderland story about an obsessive and mentally ill pastor's search for a very particular answer in the Bible. The style of the novella is postmodern, recalling Thomas Pynchon's disjointed realities as the unnamed protagonist, an unreliable narrator, is speaking lucidly at one moment about early Christian history and experiencing terrifying hallucinations the next. Ultimately, Rathbun's narrator's project is to provide a Midrash, a rabbinic-style commentary and interpretation, of the “Juanitos,” the three Epistles of John. Instead of coming away with a grounded understanding of the author's biblical opinion, however, the novella elicits profound discomfort and fear, aided in no small measure by frighteningly deformed pencil-sketch illustrations accompanying the text. The search for absolute certainty and ultimate truth in scripture can be very taxing emotionally. But perhaps that is Rathbun's point after all.