Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gail Sidonie Sobat: The Book of Mary

Reviewed by: Victor Schwartzman

Published by Sumach Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada ( Available on Amazon.

Victor does not know Gail. Gail is not a ULA member, and maybe has never even visited Philadelphia.

See, there is this fourteen year old girl. She wants to taste life. Although independent, she still defines herself in terms of how men see her--she is a product of her times. To spread her wings, she starts hanging out at the local “bad girls” place. Soon enough this guy comes along, a sweet-talker, who has trouble remembering her name. They fall into the sack...frequently...he starts to remember her name...and she becomes pregnant.

Then he tells her the truth about himself, at least some of it—he is married. He agrees to run away with her…only, he never shows up. The girl is in crisis. Where she lives pregnant single women are stoned to death. To save her life, she makes up a story and agrees to marry a jerk. Her story? That she became pregnant not by her boyfriend, who turns out to be a drug dealer, but by God. And that she carries the son of God.

By now in the girl's story, it is around six months B.C. The girl lives in a hick town called Nazareth. Her name is Mary.

And so begins “The Story of Mary”, a wonderful, controversial, thought-provoking novel that takes Christianity and shakes the hell out of it. Literally.

At first, true to the spirit of a rebellious teenager, the writing is snarky and often hilarious. Mary’s description of riding across the desert with her new husband, Joseph, who is not terribly bright: “I have a pain in the ass from riding one and being married to another.” In Bethlehem the three wise men she meets are characterized as the three “wise guys”, straight out of a Martin Scorsese film, complete with Brooklyn accents.

However, as the book progresses and Mary ages, the tone matures with her. One of the lovely aspects of this novel is how it not only grows on you, but that it grows, period. As Mary would say, just like a person already. The hilarity of the opening third of the novel evolves into a more deeply felt narrative as Jesus is born and grows up believing the crazy story mommy spread about him being the Son of God. Meanwhile, it is Mary herself who is the healer. In fact, she opens up a hospital, becomes a midwife and….

This book has too many enchanting discoveries to give you spoilers.

Gail Sidonie Sobat has written a remarkable novel. It is like its human narrator, growing from adolescence to maturity as it progresses. Yes, you already know how some of the book ends. Her son Jesus’ story is well known, the meshegunner rabble rouser. What you do not know are the funny, insightful, dramatic twists she creates to make the reader think about what religion is all about, what responsibility is all about, what—well, pretty much, by the time she is done, what pretty much everything is all about.

This is what “underground” literature should be and what mainstream literature all too often avoids. Sidonie Sobat takes on patriarchy, Christianity, medicine, life responsibilities, family relationships, commercialism, social politics, political politics--you name it--—and turns them all on their ears stunningly, leaving the reader with a lifetime’s experience to think about. But this is no polemic (although, it gets close at times, and, frankly, guys don't turn out to be that wise). It is very entertaining, funny, dramatic, profoundly involving, and certainly worth the scheckels.

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