Review

The Messiah of Morris Avenue

by Tony Hendra



Film and music buffs know right off who Tony Hendra is --- he
played "Ian Faith," manager of the band in the immortal
mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap. Readers in the millions
know him by a more recent hit, his bestselling spiritual memoir,
FATHER JOE.

Forgiveness --- complete, soul-filling, heavenly forgiveness --- is
at the heart of FATHER JOE. It is also the soul-satisfying
centerpiece of THE MESSIAH OF MORRIS AVENUE. It couldn't be any
other way. This novel is about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I
mean, literally.

This time around, He is Jose Francisco Lorcan Kennedy --- known as
Jay. He's an immigrant's son from the Bronx. He wears a hooded
sweatshirt. He's not handsome in any conventional way.

His story, this time around, is told by an unbeliever, Johnny
Greco. Back in the day, Johnny won the Pulitzer Prize; now he's a
tabloid hack on the lookout for a good story about a freak. And in
America in the not-so-distant future, the Second Coming could be
Johnny's ticket to ride.

Consider: America is now a full-blown theocracy. There's a
"Chaplain-in-Chief" of the Armed Forces. The second "L" has been
removed from the Hollywood sign, and the country's most successful
evangelist hosts the Academy Awards. Here's a hit movie:
Sophie's Free Choice, in which "a young mother pregnant with
twins, is told by her (feminist) doctor that she must abort one of
them or die." (Luckily, she finds Jesus and "becomes an instrument
of divine retribution.") Sex is for child creation only. Gay sex is
a felony --- TV sports no longer shows close-ups of the snap in pro
football. BMW makes a car called the Babylon. There is a Great Wall
of Trump Towers.

In this mindlessly happy culture, who cares --- really cares ---
about the poor? Jay. He uses the language of the street, but in
every other way, this is the Gospel we know. And the same mission:
"to reveal the God in humanity and the humanity in God, by
teaching, healing, and, if necessary, dying."

Needless to say, Jay is not exactly on the same page as the
American Church, which endorses all wars, is excited by the death
penalty and has long forgotten that every soul is equally precious
to God. As Jay says, "I come, first and foremost, for the
losers."

Hendra stacks the deck against his satiric version of the
evangelical Christian movement in America. He gives Jay all the
good lines --- "There's no more convincing argument for intelligent
design than evolution" --- and all of the miracles. Which is just
as well: We all know the story, especially the ending. The success
of a book like this lies entirely in the execution.

THE MESSIAH OF MORRIS AVENUE is exciting reading because Hendra
knows where satire ends and tedium begins. His novel is a hybrid:
partly comic, partly dead-serious. In other hands, that formula
could have all the allure of a cold souffle. Hendra, luckily for
us, is a master --- for a serious book, it has you laughing out
loud all the way through. Well, until the climax, anyway.

God so loved Jose Francisco Lorcan Kennedy that He sent Him to save
His children. You'll love Jay too. And think about Jay long after
The End. (Or is it, as Hendra wonders, The Beginning?)

Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth on January 7, 2011

The Messiah of Morris Avenue
by Tony Hendra

  • Publication Date: March 20, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312425392
  • ISBN-13: 9780312425395