Weekly Wire
The Boston Phoenix Millennial Mess

A novel about the coming of the Messiah can't live up to the hype

By David Valdes Greenwood

APRIL 5, 1999: 

MESSIAH, by Andrei Codrescu. Simon and Schuster, 366 pages, $25.

Andrei Codrescu's second novel, Messiah, is a combination of sprawling plot excess and colorful characters. It's a spectacular mess, with a disappointing culmination that is perhaps a good metaphor for the problems with millennial hype: nothing short of the end of the world can live up to it.

Before overloading his circuits with multiple apocalyptic scenarios, Codrescu introduces two punky waif-like girls who make big impressions on everyone they meet: Felicity, a private eye in New Orleans, and Andrea, a Bosnian war orphan living at a convent in Jerusalem. The two girls, we are led to believe, may together be the Messiah -- and the book spends much of its energy leading them toward meeting.

Along the way, Codrescu creates a host of interesting characters: the Shades, a tattooed end-time cult; international religious scholars of varied faiths who study at the convent; a slimy, maniacal televangelist with a zombie-like girl choir; and a bulging roster of historical figures who come to life on the Internet or in hijacked human bodies. At his best -- as when the convent guests tell mythology from their traditions or bond over the Israeli version of Wheel of Fortune -- Codrescu creates a witty world-view that is truly engaging.

But the book is not a controlled work. The tone veers all over the map: from clumsy ("Andrea moved her little finger like the big hand of a clock over the tip of Ben's penis") to improbable (a none-too-bright cop says, "You some kind of secular humanist"), with sudden dips into pulp-fiction prose ("it was a screwy city in a screwy country in a screwy time, and dangerous as shit"). Codrescu sounds perpetually amused with himself, but the laughs are strained on the page.

Perhaps the biggest weakness is that we are falsely led to believe that these young women are deeply significant, even iconic. They need to be in order to balance the misogynistic overtones: passages in which grade-school girls seemingly enjoy their sexual abuse; descriptions of protagonists as having bodies that say "take me." But as the book collapses under the weight of Codrescu's competing doomsday scenarios, we see that the would-be heroines are not that special after all, and really are just sex kittens waiting for the right guy. This is only slightly more disappointing than his cowardly feel-good ending.

Referencing religious fanaticism, cybersexuality, media saturation, and even ecological disaster, Codrescu, it seems, has gotten swept up in millennial fever. But the tide is against him, and he can't control the disaster.

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