cover image Nazareth, North Dakota

Nazareth, North Dakota

Tommy Zurhellen. Atticus (Itasca, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (212p) ISBN 978-0-9845105-6-6

At its best, this debut novel reveals the hardscrabble life of normal, unguided people who put their last dollars in the juke box and don't worry about what will happen when the song ends. Roxy, the unlikely matriarch, the Tiparillo-smoking Severo Rodriguez, a most crooked sheriff, and Jan, the strange but likable preacher, grow up or grow old in one another's sights with just the right balance of unpredictable drama and normalcy. Zurhellen's masterful dialogue often makes for gripping scenes that sustain these characters for decades. By contrast, in the attempt to formulate the retelling of the Messiah and, by extension, turn the stuff of daily life into the weighty allegory of prophets and sinners, everything becomes less powerful. Zurhellen, who won a Pushcart Prize for his short fiction, does himself a disservice by trying to be epic: spanning 20 years makes the leaps forward in time disorienting, even though settling into each era is a joy. The regular moments of worry, love, danger, and wonder are this book's best and most original accomplishments. (Apr.)