After firewalking in Polynesia, fundamentalist minister Alexander Hergensheimer never saw the world the same. Now called Alec Graham, he was in the middle of an affair with his stewardess, Margrethe, and natural disasters kept following them. First, there was an impossible iceberg that wrecked the ship in the tropics; then, after being rescued by a Royal Mexican plane, they were hit by a double earthquake. To Alex, the signs were clear that Armageddon and the Day of Judgment were near. Somehow, he had to bring his beloved heathen, Margrethe, to a state of grace, for heaven would be no paradise without her. But time was growing short. And, while he was at it, there had to be a way to save the rest of the world.
As I said, I did enjoy this book, but was very uncomfortable with most of it. Heinlein is very impressed with his own knowledge of the Bible, and yet seems to know very little about Christianity. Non-believers often find it strange when I make that distinction, but it is not so very difficult a concept. I had a couple of classes with a woman who knew every fact and date in the textbook, and yet understood nothing of it. She had the knowledge, but was without understanding. When it comes to the Spirit, the problem is even more pronounced (1 Corinthians 2:14).
This is not normally too much a problem. I am a great fan of Isaac Asimov’s, and yet he was utterly blind to anything supernatural at all. That does not make me like his books less. But in this case, Heinlein seems to be writing a great deal of the book as an attack on Christianity, though he has missed the meaning and point of the Scripture he is attacking. The primary problem is his concept of grace, something he believes can be lost the second a stray thought arises. The idea that you must confess all sins immediately before dying or burn in hell provides the backbone for this novel and also provides Heinlein with a terrible injustice to attack. The problem is, it isn’t Christianity. He is attacking a strawman. The novel is weakened because it is directed against his own misunderstandings.
I will repeat that I enjoyed it for the plot and characters. The end was unworthy of the rest, but it was a fun read.
When I was seventeen I told my boss I would read this book, that had been so influential to his young catholic school life. It was one of only two gallon sized bags worth of objects prized from my worst car wreck in my early twenties. It has been the lasting joke of a decade. Whether I had finally read it.
And this late winter, in the year I will turn 29, he sent me a second copy. It is pristine, and not as tender warming as the one that slowly is trying to die, but its very much still in this house with me. (And both copies likely find it queer, I read it on my Kindle instead of through either of them.)
I am not sure I liked this novel. It is slow and plodding, and it does not do details and relationships the way my favorite books do. But it was quite compelling, and I was involved with the point of the novel by about the one-third mark.
I can see very much why it changed his life when it did, though at 29, I can see why it seems for granted to me, with all my life has had in it. I'm not sure I'd rec it to others, but I'm certain I would still love to talk about it with people. And thus I will leave you the quote that will stay with me forever, too:
"Is this Texas, then, or Hell?"
"Well. That's all really a matter of opinion."
It's an interesting meditation on religious fundamentalism, but ultimately it strikes me as a little too facile. It was written near the end of Heinlein's career and it feels a little as if it were done by rote. There are several recycled bits from earlier works, including the obligatory reference to consensual parent/child sex. The dialogue is a bit stiff- RAH was very stingy with his contractions, and I think that makes for awkward sounding conversations.
The Farnsworth family were far and away my favorite characters. I liked the steampunky elements of the first several chapters. In the end, though, I couldn't get past my distaste for Alex. This one's not going back on the shelf. 2.5 stars.
So how did Heinlein do? Well, Cabell repeatedly insisted that he wrote only for his own pleasure. Heinlein, in these later books, seemed to be indulging in a similar private obsession. If that is the case, he wouldn't have cared much what we think.
That being said, "Jurgen" is a far, far better book than "Job: A Comedy of Justice." Cabellian irony fit his mythic cosmos-building and droll story constructs. Heinlein may have aimed for irony, but his personal philosophy rubbed against the grain of that emprise. He was, in the end, a pretty straight-forward guy, if a nudist and all-around crank. This book is one of those very odd failures that may haunt unwary readers for reasons hard to grasp. The haunting, I think, is due entirely to the strange and unlikely presence of the shade of James Branch Cabell.
His take on religion is by turns earnest and trite, but he gives it a go and even the harshest critic might acknowledge that he had passing familiarity with their belief system of choice.
Not his best book, and as he so often does, the change of direction in the last 50 pages makes you wonder where it might have gone. Regardless, Bob became so much a part of me that at my most critical I can't dislike this book.
Although I didn't care for Alec's constant preaching and proselytizing, I understand the necessity of it as regards to the plot and was able to deal with it better at the end of the book than while I was reading it. I very much enjoy Heinlein's take on religion, and wonder if this is the budding of his World as Myth theories.
It was well written and a quick read. I understand he was making a comment on religion, the people who use it, and its impact and place in society. The problem is, I have no interest in christianity and that was what the story was about. Yes it can apply to any religion, but that doesn't do much for me either. The characters were ok, but too squeaky to be real, and of course many were religious. Then at the end of the book we visit heaven and hell, and meet some of the inhabitants. Frankly I just couldn't wait for it to be over.
What was also sad, was though this book was published in 1984, as perhaps a satire on religion, in the current climate many of the religious rules are almost law here. And you almost can't get elected, or hold public office if you don't 'believe' and tow the party line on all issues. Then the believers appoint judges to interpret the law, and promote rules that tie the hands of those they can't intimidate into silence.
I just read Christophers Moore's "Lamb" before this and must say that this was a refreshing take on religion.
In the end love is all that matters in every life I guess...