cover image SAINT JULIAN


Walter Wangerin, Jr.. Harper San Francisco, $19.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-06-052252-0

National Book Award–winning author Wangerin (The Book of Dun Cow) retells the story of St. Julian the Hospitaller, patron saint of carnival workers, ferrymen, wandering musicians and other peripatetic souls. The narrator is an elderly cleric in a small parish "in the neglected center of a city of considerable size" somewhere in Europe, in some indeterminate time; the story of St. Julian once brought the cleric out of despair, and he is anxious to tell it himself for the masses, for Julian is "the Saint of them that have sinned uncommonly, whether by heart or by hand." Born in medieval Europe to a noble family, Julian has blood lust from a young age. As a teenager, he goes hunting purely for the ecstasy of the kill. One day a stag, dying at his hand, prophesies that Julian will murder his own parents. Julian flees his home in terror of the prophesy, becomes a brutal warrior and takes a wife. While he is away pillaging, his parents come to his castle. His wife receives them warmly and unwittingly offers them her bed. When Julian comes home the stag's prediction reaches its inevitable, tragic fulfillment. In his grief, Julian becomes a beggar, seeking degradation in every form and doing good works for the poor, which include building a hospice and inns. The story is beautifully written, in a style that is formal without being overly lyrical or stagily archaic. The fable-like narrative won't be for everyone, but those interested in the lives of the saints will enjoy this imaginative tale. (Mar.)