Imagine the world in the aftermath of a global upheaval --- a reverse rapture. That's right; the non-Christians have been whisked away, and it's the Christians who have been left behind. Well, the Christians and a few stray pagans. A PAGAN'S NIGHTMARE, indeed.
This is the world Ray Blackston imagined as he shifted gears from his popular Flabbergasted trilogy and set out to create a story within a story and a whole new world as well. Decidedly tongue in cheek, this departure from his usual style may not exactly mirror the laugh-out-loud humor in his previous books, but his wry wit is nonetheless evident. In turning the spotlight on legalistic attitudes across the mild-to-extreme spectrum, Blackston carries those attitudes to their logical conclusion should the world be left in the hands of --- God forbid! --- legalistic believers.
The story begins when literary agent Ned Watson receives a riveting manuscript from Larry Hutch, one of his clients. Desperate to make a sale and intrigued by the novel's premise, Ned focuses all his attention on the content of Larry's book --- Blackston's "story within a story" --- much to the dismay of his devout Southern Baptist wife, Angie, who organizes a protest to discourage its publication. She's not exactly happy with the way Christians are depicted in Hutch's novel/soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture, which features the escapades of building contractor Lanny Hooch and DJ Ned Neutral, two of the last remaining pagans on earth, as they attempt to avoid the clutches of the Christians who are stalking them.
The story within a story depicts a world that resembles a Christian bookstore run amok, with angel-shaped waffles at Cracker Barrel, crosses adorning the Burger King crowns, and french fries --- McScriptures --- that magically spell out Bible verses. The religious world is under the sway of a prophet named Marvin the Apostle who speaks in mangled King James English, and the U.S. Senate has been reduced to 37 members who keep themselves busy "unseparating all the churches from the states…Eighteen Republicans and nineteen Democrats, which is a bit surprising." I love it.
Hooch and DJ Ned end up in a detainment center in Cuba, of course, where along with other prisoners they hatch a plan to escape in a yacht abandoned by Castro, who is no longer a problem. To avoid detection by the Coast Guard, they plan to rename the boat the "Cuban Conversion" and head out to safer waters. (Aboard the yacht, they discover that Castro is a fan of the Backstreet Boys, but that's another sub-story.) At this point, telling very much more would be telling too much; suffice it to say that their plans go awry. Meanwhile, Larry Hutch provides a puzzling ending to the story-within-the-story, but it's one that makes perfect sense to Angie and her band of Southern Baptist protestors.
Though I'm still not sure I'm all that enamored with the ending to the story-within-the-story, I do appreciate the basic allegory that Blackston presents here. While it may take Blackston fans a while to get used to this change in his style, it's worth staying with him to the end of the book. And even if you're not sure the book would be to your liking, you have to check out the cover art, by far one of the best covers ever to grace a Christian novel.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011