cover image The Story of B

The Story of B

Daniel Quinn. Bantam Books, $22.95 (325pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10053-2

Quinn returns to fiction after a five-year hiatus with a sequel of sorts to Ishmael, winner of the Turner Tomorrow Award in 1991. Like its controversial predecessor, this book is not really a novel, but an extended Socratic dialogue that promulgates the same animist solutions to global problems that the author recorded last year in his spiritual autobiography, Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest. The narrator, Jared Osborne, is a priest of the Laurentians, a fictional Roman Catholic order under an ancient, covert mandate to stand watch against the coming of the Antichrist. Although skeptical, Jared is enjoined by his superior to investigate Charles Atterley, an expatriate American preacher known to his followers as ""B."" Allowing Jared into his inner circle in Munich, B soon dispels both the concern that he is the Antichrist and the shivery intimations of apocalypse that make the opening chapters darkly intriguing. Through long, often numbingly repetitive parables and speeches, B instructs Jared in the solutions to overpopulation, ecological despoliation, cultural intolerance and other ills that have dogged civilization since the time of ""the Great Forgetting"" 10,000 years ago. B's smug pontificating and his disciples' unquestioning devotion reduces them to interchangeable mouthpieces for Quinn's philosophies. As a result, Jared's spiritual conversion away from Roman Catholicism and toward Quinn-ism, intended to be the book's dramatic high point, falls painfully flat. (Dec.)