Thursday, October 10, 2013

God’s Naked Will & other sacrilege


God’s Naked Will & other sacrilege
By C.D. Mitchell
BurntBridge Press
159 pages

Review by Thomas Gagnon 

            First-time author C. D. Mitchell excels at making scenes.  He often opens with sensational information, which evolves into a drama both compelling and realistic—no contrived plot twists here.  But also often, something is missing.  Most of these stories are all about their scenes, while the characters—if not missing in action—stay two-dimensional.
            First, the positive, and there is plenty of positive to accentuate.  Mitchell does create utterly memorable scenes.  Near the end of the first story, “Clovis Clementine,” the already horrible life of Clovis takes an especially ghoulish and ghastly turn.  During a flood, he imagines that dead bodies rise up and talk to him—at first, a high school classmate that he had attacked and killed, and later, at three-pages’ length, “the Colonel” who urges him to join the devil’s ranks.  A scene like that has lasting impact, and there are many such scenes throughout this short story collection.
            One other scene—a favorite of mine—occurs in the title story, “God’s Naked Will.”  It is a dialogue over the phone between a Pentecostal preacher, Mooney, and a receptionist at an escort service, absurdly named God’s Own Escort Service: A Touch From Above With Every Date.  The absurdity continues with the line “God’s Own Escort Service.  How can we touch you today?,” but the ensuing conversation takes unexpectedly dark turns:
            “I want someone who knows how to keep her mouth shut.  But I also want someone
            who knows what she’s doing.  And she must be white.”
            “What are you, a bigot?”
            “No.  But my faith prohibits inter-racial marriages.”
            “Your faith probably prohibits premarital sex, too.”   (55)
Such unexpected darkness—or, at best, murkiness—is a strength in all Mitchell’s stories.
            Also positive, Mitchell boldly presents distasteful issues and situations.  The mere concept of the Lord’s army (introduced almost right away in “Clovis Clementine”) induces shivers.  And it gets more distasteful than that, in story after story: schizophrenia, suicide, adultery, horrific hypocrisy, capital punishment, voyeurism, verbal abuse, and sexual perversions.  Nor are these evils hurriedly set aside.  Rather, they stay front and center, throughout.  For instance, the sexual perversions in the story “Original Sin”—especially, lust masquerading as nudism—never quite disappear.  Although the bride, Lesley, knows ahead of time that she will be getting married nude in front of strangers (on p. 124), she cannot reconcile herself to the thought (on p. 139).  On the contrary, she suggests to the groom, Zach, that they leave as soon as possible.  They don’t.  Lesley cannot escape from human sin.  Consequently, neither can the reader.
            This is impressive.  What is not impressive is the lack of characterization in most of these stories.  Clovis is not so much a person as he is a misfortune incarnate; the same is true of another character with severe mental illness, Sally in “Job’s Comforter.”  Although Lani in “Stud Fee” has interesting moments, Mike, the stud, does not.  Elias in “Healing Waters” achieves an anti-climax rather than a climax.  And so on, with one exception: Reverend Mooney.  Mooney takes on dimension because he is both astoundingly hypocritical and apparently unaware of his hypocrisy.  He contains a world of contradictions, which are not amusing and yet are not wholly disgusting, either.  It is clear that the unrealistic tenets of Mooney’s own faith are partly to blame for his faults.
            Each story is a mix of the well-done and the problematic.  Since schizophrenic Clovis believes in the Fundamentalist Christian concept of the Rapture, it is apt that he fears the flood is a particularly ominous sign.  But, the many similes describing Clovis’ schizophrenia merely strain the brain.  The can of mace in “Job’s Comforter” is a Chekhov’s gun that never goes off—an excellent aspect of the story.  But, the metaphor of Job’s comforter is utterly perplexing.  Whereas Darleen does aim to comfort her schizophrenic daughter, Sally, Job’s comforters do not comfort Job.  Other stories are more (or less) out-of-balance than these two.
            For all its imperfections, however, some stories in the collection do linger in the mind.  Important questions about faith are framed by intensely dramatic (but plausible) situations.  Yes, it is a bumpy ride, but it is an enjoyably bumpy ride with resonance. 

1 comment:

  1. I just now saw this review. The greatest gift anyone can give a writer is the time they spend reading their work. Thank you for that time and for your review!