cover image The Eternal Footman

The Eternal Footman

James Morrow. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $24 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-15-129325-4

The third installment in Morrow's Godhead Trilogy (after Blameless in Abaddon and Towing Jehovah) returns the reader to a world that is perpetual witness to God's death as His Delaware-sized skull--the Cranium Dei--takes up residence in the sky. Society is beset with an apocalyptic plague; its victims ""riddled with Nihilism... and malignant despair"" as they progress through the four fatal stages of the disease. Each sufferer meets a personal ""leveler""--a literate, ironic demon who heralds death and dwells in its host, materializing to impart jokes, warnings, inevitabilities. Morrow offers several heroes to bring hope to this grim world, including former schoolteacher Nora Burkhart, the recently widowed mother of Kevin. Struggling to give her cerebral son a good life, she is soon faced with the arrival of Kevin's leveler, a being called Quincy Azrael. Gerard Korty, meanwhile, is a renowned, reclusive sculptor who lives cloistered with his wife on the Indonesian coast and is commissioned by the Vatican to create God's reliquary. And Captain Anthony Van Horne is the infamous oil tanker captain who's given the task of transporting the Corpus Dei to Rome. These characters' paths converge in the jungles of Coatzacoalcos, site of a unique scientific-religious institution called Somatocism, which promises a cure for the plague. Breathlessly taking on a multitude of absurdities, musings and challenges, the author and his roaming imagination--like a plague victim and his leveler--are stationed everywhere along the dense, occasionally bloated story's path, equally ready to debunk and apotheosize. Reminiscent of Swift, Vonnegut and Ayn Rand, Morrow comes off here as ambitious, observant and earnest. A respected satirist and tirelessly resourceful appropriator of the conventions of SF, he may not secure legions of new followers with this novel, but his devotees won't be disappointed. Agent, Merrilee Heifetz. (Nov.)