Black Jesus by Simone Felice

[[Felice]]Deep in the Catskill Mountains,one assumes beardedmen sit in lonely cabins infront of log fires contemplatingHuckleberry Finn andwriting folk songs. Thus it’s asurprise to find one part offamed duo The Duke and theKing (and The Felice Brothers), SimoneFelice, writing an elegiac lament for a lostAmerica against a soundtrack of eighties pophits, beginning with Phil Collins and closingwith the Eurythmics.

Lionel White is a Marine. Blinded by abomb blast and plagued with nightmaresof war, he returns with a new name – BlackJesus – and to a mother who has burneddown their trailer-trash home and movedinto a converted Dairy Queen with the localdeputy. Meanwhile, a ballerina stripper whopinches her name – Gloria – from LauraBranigan’s disco hit, rides broken-legged on aragged moped across the American highways,escaping her boyfriend, the music critic.Once these strands of the story converge weslowly understand the mystical magnetismthat connects them. However to read this forplot alone is to do yourself an injustice. Thebeauty of the book lies in the depth of images,creating a hallucinatory experience andvividness that is as haunting as an apocalypse.

This isn’t Felice’s first venture into fiction,and it certainly stands up to descriptions ofhis work being a kind of fable-noir, but Ithink it better resembles his talent for writingsongs. Motifs and themes are hammeredhome like nailed scraps of poetry to the wall.Between a mourning for a better place andthe connection of spirit in the strange vortexof love, we are left wondering if perhaps thiswas all spoken by some burnt-out God. LikeRip Van Winkle, America wonders: whereare we and how’d we get to this place?