(Context Books, $25.00, 413 pages, hardcover; published in October 2002.)
Two old Jewish men belong to a chess club in Chicago. One of them, Aaron, is wealthyand an amateur scholar. The other, Howard, is a widowed private investigator.
Aaron hires Howard to find the false gods that Israel worshipped for 600 years when, in antiquity, it turned away from the God of Scripture. "Nowhere does it say they don't exist," says Aaron. "What it says is they're false gods ... gods not to be trusted."
Howard turns him down, but Aaron insists, offering him a generous fee. Howard finally agrees to take the case for a month to see if he can get anywhere, all the while thinking that this is a fool's errand. He has no idea where or how to start looking into such a strange case. But because Howard takes an active interest in the old gods (or whatever they are), they also take an interest in him.
Meanwhile, these mysterious creatures are paying close attention to a young Indiana boy, Tim, whose father is going through a devastating midlife crisis. Howard finds himself helping Tim, or at least trying to.
Daniel Quinn's The Holy is a mosaic of interlocking quests, robustly written and filled with astonishing ideas. It keeps flirting with generic conventions -- of thrillers, of horror fiction, of new-age novels -- but, every time it threatens to fall into cliché, it pulls an unexpected trick that plunges it into deeper and more startling waters.
Quinn's critics have faulted his earlier novels for being too didactic. In The Holy, he seamlessly integrates his philosophical concerns -- about consumerism, the environment, the pitfalls of religious faith -- into a profoundly satisfying story, both grand and intimate, that bristles with excitement.
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© Claude Lalumière 25 January 2003, 26 April 2003