NESFA Members' Reviews


by James Morrow

Harcourt Brace, ISBN 0-15-600244-2, 1996, 243pp, US$12

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper

Everyone needs their traditions. For me, these include reading Kim Stanley Robinson's "'History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations'" on New Year's Eve and James Morrow's "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 31: The Covenant" on Passover.

Now the problem is that I'll end up reading all the other stories in this volume at the same time.

This is a great collection.

There are twelve stories in this book. Four are Morrow's traditional "Bible Stories for Adults": Numbers 17 (The Deluge), 20 (The Tower), 31 (The Covenant), and 46 (The Soap Opera). The other eight have varying degrees of connection to the Bible. In his preface, Morrow categorizes these and gives what he sees as the connections between them and the Bible or religion. While there is obviously some validity in what he says, there are other connections to be drawn as well. For example, while "The Confessions of Ebenezer Scrooge" may ask, as Morrow says, "whether charity alone can exorcise the demons that drive monopoly capitalism," it also serves as a companion piece to "Bible Stories for Adults, Number 46: The Soap Opera," examining justification. Or perhaps it connects to "Bible Stories for Adults, Number 20: The Covenant," looking at what motivates human behavior.

Is "Daughter Earth" a miniature version of "Diary of a Mad Diety" -- or is it the other way around? Morrow says that "The Assemblage of Kristin" looks at the mystery of consciousness, but it's also about death and resurrection. If Morrow's traditional "Bible Stories" are telling us that we have gotten it all wrong, what is he trying to say with "Spelling God with the Wrong Blocks"?

And to be honest, one might ask what "Known But to God and Wilbur Hines," "Abe Lincoln in McDonald's," or "Arms and the Woman" have to do with Bible stories. On the other hand, they're great stories, so who cares? (In fact, I was surprised to discover that the only award nomination for these stories was a Nebula nomination [and win] for "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge." There are at least a couple of other stories which are at least as good as anything nominated in their years.)

Morrow manages to put into words feelings that many readers will recognize that they had but never formalized. The most obvious example (to me) is "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 46: The Soap Opera," where he looks at the real meaning of the story of Job and comes to a conclusion that will have many readers shouting, "Right on!" And maybe this is what connects all these stories: their ability to make us look at what we have always been taught and ask what it really means and if it's really true. In this context, even the stories that seem at first unconnected fall into place as examinations of beliefs and belief systems. What motivates the people in all these stories is a belief system, perhaps not Biblical, but certainly ones that could be labeled religious. And Morrow shows us that these belief systems have implications that many proponents would prefer to gloss over. (If I were to suggest a companion piece for these stories, it might well be Mark Twain's "War Prayer.")

I've avoided saying too much about the stories themselves, because I feel they will have the most impact if you don't know a lot about them beforehand. But I will say that I highly recommend this book. (I suppose I should provide a caveat here. If you are distressed by a frank look at your religious beliefs, you may not find this to your tastes. But then, you probably knew that.) Also being reprinted by Harcourt Brace at the same time is Morrow's novel ONLY BEGOTTEN DAUGHTER, the perfect companion piece for this collection.

%T      Bible Stories for Adults
%A      James Morrow
%C      New York
%D      1996
%I      Harcourt Brace (Harvest)
%O      trade paperback, US$12
%G      ISBN 0-15-600244-2
%P      243pp

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