Monday, October 20, 2008

Salvation is at Hand

Ian Williams reviews Larrry Beinhart's Salvation Boulevard

In Larry Beinhart’s novels, the reader is left to wonder how much is a vivid and inventive imagination at work– and how much is simply an uncannily perceptive eye for current affairs and the state of the country combined with a convincing pen for character for his unlikely heroes.
They have deserved a much larger audience than they have had, although American Hero, when metamorphosed into Wag The Dog did indeed reach many more viewers than readers.
The Librarian epitomized the age of Cheney and the Republican Right in its backdrop and the setting for its plot, but like all of Larry's work, eschewed overt didacticism and maintained the standards of suspense and excitement that a thriller needs.
With Salvation Boulevard, he has surpassed himself. It will make a great movie, as long, of course, as he does not allow Hollywood to dumb down his depiction of the grasping Pastor/CEO of the megachurch that features so largely in the book. 

However, while he holds up for excommunication the Evangelical right that has condemned the country to two terms of disaster, he is not the type of militant unbeliever that makes Atheism a new and almost equally as obsessive a creed as the religions it opposes.
He gives us a rounded view of faith, and how important it can be even to his hero, the born again private eye who has indeed benefited from his church and his belief. The Atheist in this story is the victim, almost the McGuffin, and the story articulates his beliefs.

Indeed, even his other characters, the Jewish lawyer and the Muslim victim demonstrate that people's faith can inform and shape their ethical behavior, even if he equally suggests that ethics can, in effect, be freestanding, with no need of belief in the supernatural.

The real danger, his plot demonstrates as it unfolds, is the potential for manipulation of people's best ethical instincts by religious leaders, and indeed political leaders. Under the Kaiser, a German social-democrat, a carpenter as I remember, dressed himself in a officer's uniform, and practically commandeered the town. No one dared question his authority.
Mesmerized by "terrorism," as Larry depicts, at almost every level of American Society from the President down, any abuse can be covered in the "uniform" of anti-terrorism, and far too many will just click their heels and salute.

As Larry's hero races through the mean freeways and malls of the Red States while rediscovering his ethics – and losing much in the process, we get philosophy, gun fights, family drama, shovelfuls of action to help the ethics go down.

I loved it – and emerged a born again atheist, with a revived lack of faith in the supernatural – and a renewed faith in the integrity of ordinary people.

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