Jesus Saves – It’s Just a Question of When

Darcey Steinke’s Jesus Saves is a coarse and disturbing novel. It is a hair shirt. But you put it on and wear it, because even though the novel makes you uncomfortable you want to find out what happens.

The story opens with a car crash and a dead deer. Later, the deer’s head becomes the centerpiece of a shrine. To what? No idea. Maybe chaos or maybe random acts of violence. And that’s before you realize a teenage girl (like so many before her) has gone missing.

There will be blood. Literal and metaphorical. Blood spilled through cruelty, violence, negligence, and nature. “[Y]ou have to respect the earth, and if you don’t the earth gets hungry and wants blood. That’s what plane crashes are all about, blood payment.” And it’s not just the earth. Society is a vampire. Fortunately, there are plenty of vulnerable and desperate people to feed upon.

The story follows the parallel lives of two teenage girls in southwest Virginia – presumably Lynchburg or Roanoke (Ms. Steinke went to high school in Roanoke). Ginger is a minister’s daughter. Sandy is everyone’s daughter, and she has been kidnapped so she can be sold to a sex trafficking ring. The stories intersect briefly near the end.

Ginger is hardly religious in a traditional sense. “In the Bible [Ginger wryly observes], God was famous . . . for being more pleased by living animals and their slaughter than by a basket of inanimate vegetables.” Ginger’s mother recently died of cancer, and her father can barely function. It doesn’t help that the church’s major donors want him to become a televangelist. In describing a minister at a modern church, he tells Ginger the “head minister wore red suspenders and a blue striped shirt, like a Wall Street banker. They’re using corporate philosophies to make everybody feel like they’re moving up the church ladder, getting a raise or a promotion. But spiritual change is more subtle than that; you can’t just check items off a list.” Unfortunately for him, no one in his church is interested in spiritual change. They want to be entertained.

Our first introduction to Sandy is through a sermon by Ginger’s father. “Her mother says she has a dreamy side, that she collects stuffed animals, reads fantasy novels where horses fly and fairy princesses wear gowns made from flowers.” To Ginger’s father, Sandy is Christ-like, and the community must accept its complicity in her abduction. Everyone must “come to terms with the evil that resides within us.” Needless to say, the customers in his church are not entertained.

Sandy uses her childhood stuffed animals and the flying horses and unicorns in her fantasy novels to cope with the trauma of her kidnapping. As she becomes increasingly unhinged, these characters come to life. They are as real as her kidnapper. As real as Jesus. Sandy’s ordeal is brutal. Or said another way, it is realistic. The violence is not gratuitous or titillating. It is devastating.

So why is the book called Jesus Saves? We don’t know. Jesus is frequently discussed, but he never manifests. However, because we live in southwest Virginia, we would never suggest the title is ironic. That would get us shot. We accept, without question, that Jesus saves. We just wonder when he intends to start.

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor

Hallmark Cards

   Hallmark has nice sentiments,
   but they meander the gentle slopes
   of meadows laced with buttercups
   pollinated by crisp dollar bills.
   And we are too smart for the platitudes
   of enterprises that print treacle for profit.

   At least that's what William and Mary say.
   Though they annually ask us for money,
   so they would say that anyway.

   There is also no denying the obvious:
   we have been lucky - so far. 

   Though we have stumbled on rocky trails,
   slipped on slick foothills
   and blundered over blue ridges,
   we've never had to scale the Himalayas.

   So while there have been obstacles,
   we have overcome them hand in hand.

   But perhaps that is simply 
   the Hallmark card in me speaking -
   the one that blithely assumes
   our journey has been one and the same.

   Maybe your path has been different.  

   Maybe you climb Himalayan peaks everyday.

   Maybe I am being foolish and insecure.

   But that exhausted look on your face
   suggests you ran uphill for miles today
   while I walked meters on smooth linoleum.

   Then there are these scattered scraps of paper -
   fuzzy phrases that spawn insipid poems
   parading my mostly muddled thoughts on everything.
   You can find them everywhere.

   And then there's you.
   Furtively writing in a diary
   I can never find.
   And I have looked everywhere.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief

   First published in Blue Lake Review

   

Thoughts on the Dangers of Pretending to be a Poet (Part 3)

The dangers are legion, but this post pertains to mockery.

The harshest, obviously, is from your parents. “You are wasting your time and embarrassing the family,” my father says. Then he adds. “No one reads them anyway.”

“How can my poems embarrass the great Carp name if no one reads them?”

“Your unread poems aren’t the embarrassment. You are.”

My mother is gentler. “Muckypants, can you really be a poet if no one reads your poems?”

“You read my poems, Mom.”

“Oh, yes, that’s . . . right. Of course, I do. They’re very . . . quite long, aren’t they?”

Well, I think they’re only as long as they need to be.”

“Oh, bless your heart.”

As anyone from Roanoke will tell you – if someone says “bless your heart,” you just said something stupid.

Luvgood Carp, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Thoughts on the Dangers of Pretending to be a Poet (Part 2)

The dangers are legion, but I will focus on the primary ones. This post deals with self-loathing.

There is one constant when you pretend to be a poet – rejection. 117% of my poems have been rejected by poetry journals I have never heard of. I don’t think I even sent a poem to some of them. Have poetry journals joined the military-industrial complex? Do they use blanket rejections as pre-emptive strikes?

It takes a massive ego to suffer these slings and arrows. I forget who coined that phrase. It was probably McDonald’s. Fortunately, a massive ego is the only thing about me that’s big. Wait, that came out wrong. Good thing I haven’t posted this yet.

Luvgood Carp, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans