Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review: 'Killing the Devil' by Paul Michael Peters

Michigan author Paul Michael Peters studied at Second City in Chicago, lived in Philadelphia and Toronto and now writes form his home in Ann Arbor Michigan. His published works to date are THE SYMMETRY OF SNOWFLAKES, PETER IN FLIGHT, MR. MEMORY AND OTHER STORIES OF WONDER, INSENSIBLE LOSS, and now KILLING THE DEVIL. And we know little more about him than that. Until reading a few pages of his books - when suddenly we realize we are in the presence of a fresh new voice in American literature, a man whose writing style is securely his own, albeit with shades of Richard Russo, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, Thomas Pynchon and even a bow to that rara avis, Chris Katsaropoulos. That is to say that he understands the complexities of interrelationships of families, both intact and disseminated, and can relate those intricacies with an over glow of poetic atmosphere. One statement that is frequently associated with him is `Nobody can wear you out like caring about people' - a phrase which echoes through the framework of his stories.

In this refreshingly collection of five short stories - Killing the Devil, Hickory Switch, Living the Devil, Fukushima Gold, Keeping the Devil – we are introduced to another aspect of Paul’s talent: the exacting science of brevity that distills a concept, polishes it and brings a solid finale, all in a terse manner.

The flavor of these tales is apparent in the opening paragraph of the first story – KILLING THE DEVIL: ‘“There is a God to fear and a Devil to shun,” he preached from the front of the congregation, his eyes squinted, brow covered in perspiration. “There is a heaven to gain and a hell avoid,” he continued. He moved his hands up and down slowly to calm the energized crowd. “Now, close your eyes with me. If there is anyone joining us for the first time who doesn’t have peace in their heart, if there is anyone here who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, I need you to raise your hands. Raise your hands high and acknowledge that you need Him, that you need the sweet Lord to enter your heart . . . or be cast out with Lucifer into a fiery lake, where your soul will burn for all eternity.” Tex Bryant stood at the back of the service. He had chosen this spot to best observe the Southern Appalachian congregation. The hundred tan folding chairs he had counted out of boredom during the sermon were not all filled, even though it was Sunday morning. Outside the double doors of the church, it was no more than ten degrees, but inside the brown-paneled walls, the room was sweltering from all the jumping, swaying bodies. You have to respect a church this size with a full drum kit and a base guitar, Tex thought. Over the past three months of his crusade, he had seen his fair share of tambourines, folk guitars, ornate pipe organs, and even a few karaoke machines leading the worship. He loathed the incessant cabasa that seemed to be included in every church percussion starter pack. It seemed to scrape its rhythm across the crowd, chewing at Tex’s every nerve. “Anyone here,” the pastor went on, “who has never accepted the word of God into his heart faces a choice today: everlasting joy at the right hand of our Lord and Savior or eternal damnation of fire licking at your heels.” Tex noticed the last comment was directed at him. The spiritual leader shot a tense stare through the crowd, toward Tex.‘

The driver of this anthology is surveyed in the author's synopsis: `The devil is a liar. He is a deceiver, a murderer, and a cheat. The devil takes on many forms to tempt you to do wrong. But what if you could stop him? Would you give up everything to save the world from sin? Or would you rather party in hell with the sinners than be bored in heaven with the saints? When Tex Bryant decides to rid the world of the devil, little does he know he’s going to become the very thing he despises most. His journey as the ultimate evil takes him from city to city, where he leaves only destruction in his path. Nothing can save his soul from eternal damnation . . . except perhaps the woman he never stopped loving. Killing the Devil: A Collection of Short Stories explores the journeys of three people as they confront evil in its various forms. Each must choose between the wicked and the good.’ While every reader will find personal favorites, this reader found the inimitable prose of HICKORY SWITCH to be a distillation of who small towns, big money, and looney yet wise people can create their own microhistory of this country. A big Bravo! to the entire collection. As said before, writing of this quality is a wonder to discover. Hats off to a new major voice rising out of Middle America. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, September 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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