cover image Our Lady of Babylon

Our Lady of Babylon

John Rechy. Arcade Publishing, $23.45 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-335-2

With a colorful ribbon of feminist revisionism festooning its New Age wrapping, Rechy's latest novel indulges in past-life grandiosity and some scandalous speculation about the erotic lives of Adam, Medea and Jesus, among others. An unnamed countess in a decaying 18th-century European city flees to the country after being unjustly accused of having killed her husband, the count. She temporarily escapes a wily plot spun by the count's evil sister and--naturally--the pope, finding sanctuary in the chateau of Madame Bernice, a mystic who helps the countess recall that her ""essence"" is to be on a ""journey of redemption"" to vindicate the lives of all unjustly blamed women. In a succession of afternoon teas, the narrator tells the mystic of her incarnations as Eve, Mary Magdalene, Delilah, Salome, Helen of Troy, Medea and La Malinche, Cortes's lover. But the villainous pope is on to them. Rechy (The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez) does capture some of the breathless Perils-of-Pauline pacing of a good 18th-century novel, but some of the incarnations are related with so little verve that they become one-liners. The Trojan War, we learn, was fought because Paris suffered from penis envy. None of the principals--the countess, the mystic, Lucifer, God, Adam, Jesus, Judas or John the Baptist--comes to life. Rechy's spectacle of maligned Woman pursued through the annals of history by a vengeful and petty Holy Father (God, the pope) strives for the power of liberating myth but attains--and only in its best moments--a comic, and cosmic, absurdity. (June)