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The Gospel of the Knife Paperback – July 6, 2010
From Publishers Weekly
Shetterly's sequel to Dogland (1997) finds Christopher Nix, a troubled adolescent, struggling through the cultural turmoil of 1969 Florida. While running from a trio of hippie-hating bullies, Chris manages to ride his bike across a murky pond while a pursuer sinks, but he later finds a hidden branch under the water and tells himself it must have supported him. Running away from home after a fight with his father, Chris winds up romantically and then literally entangled with CC, a wild young woman trying to escape her aunt's obsession with Jesus. Then his life changes radically when a rich stranger offers to fund his education at a fancy prep school. Chris soon learns the reason for the generosity, and the small miracles that appear to follow him wherever he goes: he's actually one of the elohim, a divine being in human guise. Shetterly seems to want to make some sort of point about adolescence and faith, but like the pond, his intent is often occluded, and not every reader will be able to make it to the far side.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Shetterly's return to the story of Christopher Nix, from Dogland (1997), begins as historical fiction and quickly diverts into weirder territory. Now 14, Chris is invited to attend boarding school at the behest of Jay Dumont, who claims to owe the Nix family a debt. Accepting takes Chris far from his usual life. Under Dumont's tutelage, Chris discovers he can walk on water, heal, and manipulate others. Dumont explains that Chris is one of the nefilim, a magical race charged by God to rule the world. Yet Chris is uncomfortable with Dumont's assertion that these powers give the nefilim the right to rule as they see fit; he has seen how easily the powerful, including Dumont, are corrupted. The second-person, present-tense narration, off-putting at first, quickly becomes transparent, and Shetterly's blending of Vietnam-era realism and religious mysticism makes compelling reading. Ultimately, the tale becomes confusing, at times so incomprehensible that it flirts with boredom. Patient readers will find much to ponder, though, as Chris struggles to do what is right. Hutley, Krista --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Nix, who has just turned 14. He's a longhaired kid in a town full of rednecks. Chris is just learning about drugs, just getting interested in girls, and just testing his wings on his own for the first time.
In an ill-conceived attempt to establish his own power, he runs away from home on Halloween night. On that fateful Hallows Eve, he discovers CC, a young Black girl who he falls for. His relations with CC are interrupted by her Aunt and Chris is returned to the family late that evening.
Shortly after, Chris' family is contacted by Jay Dumont, a wealthy benefactor who wants to provide Chris an education in one of the best schools in the nation in return for his grandfather saving his life in World War I.
Chris discovers his mysterious benefactor is a good deal more than he seems. Indeed, both he and Chris are of the Elohim, a rare race gifted with godlike powers. Dumont styles himself the King of the World and declares Chris his heir since his own son Josh has recently been murdered.
Chris goes to the school--dubbed merely The Academy--and is immediately entangled in trying to find out who killed Josh. He uncovers more than he expected and must make choices with repercussions not only for him and his family but for the world.
The "Publishers' Weekly" reviewer who described this book said that not every reader would easily make it across the 'pond' metaphor in Shetterly's writing. I admit freely to being mired in more than once by "Gospel."
Having conducted a bit of research on Shetterly's website, I discovered "Gospel" was going to be two books and had about 80% of the contents edited out. I'm certain a good deal of my own confusion resulted from that compression of the larger work. One particular instance was where the writing referred to a time period of ten months when it seemed as though only a few weeks had passed in the manuscript.
Still, what I have read in "Gospel" has given me a good deal to think about even if I had to work a bit harder to tread water across the pond. "Gospel" is not my favorite of Shetterly's work--that would go to "Dogland", but I do believe that this book is well worth the read even if you do get 'dunked in the pond' a few times.
The mysterious happenings and happy coincidences of his youth are presumably explained by this, or perhaps it was his family's magical ancestry which unconsciously drew them to an area teeming with the supernatural. Chris' life changes now, though, as he's semi-adopted by a wealthy man and then sent to The Academy to learn--well, it's not really clear what they study. Chris himself is exempt anyway, since the headmaster worships him. Literally.
Other complications manage to abound despite the basic premise being quite complex enough. There's a lot going on, and I felt that the wrapup was a bit rushed. If it was really intended to be two books originally, it may have been more satisfying in that format. Still, it's a long way from bad. It supports its ambitious premise admirably.
So, does absolute power corrupt absolutely? No spoilers here, but I'll just say that I liked the way the door was left open.
That being said it had a lot of positive qualities. It just felt more like a microwave meal versus a homemade one. It might have gotten the job done, but it left you wanting a little more and wishing for a little better flavor.
A sort of coming-of-age tale with religious overtones and social/political undertones, this is worth reading for everyone. In particular I recomend it if:
1. You're interested in magical writing, but a lot of modern urban fantasy does not thrill you.
2. You have an interest in Gnosticism, Christian myth, and/or myth in general.