Jesus and John by Adam McOmber
Maple Shade, New Jersey. Lethe Press. 2020. 234 pages.
JESUS AND JOHN begins with the resurrection of Christ, here Yeshua. He rises from the grave, but instead of following the stories related in the Bible, Yeshua simply wanders aimlessly, a benign zombie. John, his disciple and lover, follows him faithfully, taking it upon himself to protect Yeshua. This leads them to roam where they find their way to a mysterious island of lotus eaters, in this case not an island at all but a puzzle box of a temple, in which they find themselves in the middle of a ritual-in-progress, with cryptic mentions of a planned sacrifice.
The novel excels in its depiction of space. The Gray Palace occupies a place that is both external and interior, dreamlike. As Yeshua and John move through the palace encountering strange rooms and stranger characters, one is reminded of the classic 1993 computer game Myst. Spaces occupy an uncanny space between the real and the unreal, and it is almost as if you can hear that subperceptual wall of bass typical of a David Lynch film rising as we get deeper into the story.
There are echoes of the work of Brian Evenson in this novel as well. The prose is straightforward, with light poetic flourishes that never distract from the propulsive pace. There is fun to be had in recognizing the Gnostic nods and historical revisionism, but the novel maintains its grip by making you turn the page, over and over again. It’s hard to find a novel these days that manages to continually surprise yet maintain its internal coherence, however dreamlike it may be.
Above all, the work manages to maintain a melancholy tenderness in both its flashback depictions of Yeshua and John’s relationship. In one particularly affective passage, the two are walking along a beach in John’s native Galilee. “You found a shell,” he says. “Do you remember? It was white with a pattern of red. . . . I’d lived my whole life on those shores and I’d never paid any attention to the shells. . . . But I think the shells are beautiful now, too. I’ve seen a pattern like a bird and one like a fish. I meant to tell you that.”
What a lovely representation of what faith can do, when you follow someone or something you believe in. Sure, that faith can lead you to frightening places, but it can also open up the world, to see the beauty right in front of your face.
J. David Osborne