THE ETERNAL FOOTMAN
God's body has self-destructed and His skull is now in orbit directly above Times Square, triggering a plague of "death awareness" and causing the United States to resemble fourteenth-century Europe during the Black Death.
As the epidemic accelerates, two people fight to preserve life and sanity: Nora Burkhart, a schoolteacher who will stop at nothing to rescue her only son, and Gerard Korty, a brilliant sculptor struggling to to create a masterwork that will heal the metaphysical wounds caused by God's abdication. Among other apocalyptic wonders, Morrow depicts a pitched battle between Jews and anti-Semites on a New Jersey golf course ... a theater troupe's stirring dramatization of the Gilgamesh epic ... and the villainy of Dr. Adrian Lucido, founder of a new church in Coatzacoalcos and inventor of a cure more dreadful than any disease.
THE STORY IN BRIEF
|The symptoms of Abulic Plague -- the deadly epidemic that results when God's gigantic skull begins looming over Western civilization -- are both physical and metaphysical. Each victim is haunted by his own private "fetch," a satanic doppelgänger bent on dragging him to his grave. When schoolteacher Nora Burkhart realizes that her young son has contracted the disease, her grief is soon supplanted by her hope of finding an effective treatment. Nora is determined to battle Kevin's fetch to the end.|
heroine's odyssey takes her and Kevin southward through an America
utterly transformed by the pestilence. Nora survives the Battle of
Paramus, runs afoul of flagellants, and falls in love with an actor
who perversely presents a production of Gilgamesh the King
to humanity's remaining remnants. Reaching New Orleans, Nora
convinces ship captain Anthony Van Horne to pilot her across the
Gulf of Mexico to Coatzacoalcos, where the mysterious Dr. Adrian
Lucido has reportedly developed a cure for the Plague.
|In Coatzacoalcos Nora manages to get Kevin into the Lucido Clinic. While therapists treat the ailing child, Nora befriends a sculptor named Gerard Korty, whose studio lies far up the Uspanapa River. Korty is completing his magnum opus: a huge sculpture of the human brain wrought from a chunk of the asteroid that caused the great Cretaceous dying -- "the dinosaurs' tombstone," as he puts it. If Korty is correct, his masterwork will help humanity renew itself once the Plague passes.|
|To her horror Nora learns that the cures effected by the Lucido Clinic are not necessarily permanent. But her true destiny, it develops, extends beyond the salvation of a single child. One night Nora's own fetch leads her through the jungle to the summit of a Maya pyramid. With the aid of hallucinogenic drugs, Nora experiences visions of the viable and humane civilization that may conceivably emerge in the wake of the Plague. But first Nora must become the paladin of Korty's numinous sculpture, a commitment that could lead to her death.|
Illustrations from Dante's Divine Comedy by Gustave Dore.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
"There's a bit of the later Mark Twain here, a hint of Dante, a dab of T.S. Eliot. and a lot of knowledge and sympathy for the human condition. It's all in a package that will rock you back in your chair and make you take notice on almost every page."
Kirkus Reviews"Morrow understands theology like a theologian and psychology like a psychologist, but he writes like an angel. The Eternal Footman takes the reader on a journey through an undiscovered country where everything is at once utterly strange and wrenchingly familiar."
Richard Elliott Friedman
FAITH JUSTICE INTERVIEWS JAMES MORROW
ON "THE ETERNAL FOOTMAN"
This exchange is excerpted from a conversation that occurred between Faith Justice and James Morrow on iUniverse.com.
FJ: I've always admired your quirky complicated characters -- people just on the edge of mainstream, neighbors with a twist. You did it again in The Eternal Footman with Nora Burkhart, the ex-English teacher and flower-delivery person, and Gerard Korty, the reclusive "modern Michelangelo." Where did they come from?
JM: A common criticism of SF is that it settles for
far too simplistic an understanding of the human psyche. In the
words of Thomas Disch, the genre lacks "a decent sense of
despair." It's a fair complaint, I feel. There's certainly no
evidence that, as our species becomes increasingly dependent on
technology and our world becomes increasingly science-fictional,
we're losing our psychological complexity. Indeed, most people
would argue that inner turmoil and ineffable existential dread
have increased in the post-industrial age.
FJ: You've described Towing Jehovah as a fantastical Lord Jim and Blameless in Abaddon as a retelling of the Book of Job. What are the literary roots of The Eternal Footman?
JM: Its primary touchstone is The Epic of
Gilgamesh. I'm not very subtle about this ancestry. My
heroine spends part of the novel traveling with a theatre company
that's producing a more-or-less faithful adaptation of
Gilgamesh in a succession of southern towns.
FJ: You've lamented that, unlike nineteenth-century writers, modern novels deal primarily with "quotidian life and its discontents." What are the grand questions you wrestle with in this trilogy, and did you come up with any answers?
JM: No, let's not go on to the next
question. Aaarggh! I'm overwhelmed! This is a great question, but
I could spend the rest of the week trying to answer it!
FJ: In The Eternal Footman you propose two alternative utopias: Deus Absconditus and Holistica. Which one would you want to live in and why?
JM: The great challenge I faced in writing The
Eternal Footman was to move beyond my usual anti-religious
satire and offer a few glimpses of a world that has somehow
evolved beyond God. This is Deus Absconditus. It's not Utopia, but
it is a "land of the grown-ups."
FJ: In The Eternal Footman, one of your protagonists, Nora Burkhart, suffers a terrible punishment for "loving her child too much." Earlier in the story she makes a choice which she thinks will save her son, but knows it means the death of many others. Since God is dead, who punishes her?
JM: Nora's situation constitutes the most tragic and
ambiguous trap I've ever set for a protagonist. She's not
fundamentally a victim: indeed, she's the savior of civilization.
But she's still trapped.
FJ: You call yourself a "scientific humanist." What does that mean?
JM: I like that term -- I first heard it in connection with Jacob Bronowski -- because there's something slightly paradoxical and ambiguous about it. And I think that worthy fiction always partakes of paradox and ambiguity.
C.P. Snow's famous dichotomy between "the two
cultures," scientists versus humanists, goes back to 1962, and I
think it's still very much with us. If anything, the schism has
gotten worse in recent years. Snow was concerned about the failure
of academic humanists to comprehend the insights of science. Today
we have hundreds of postmodern academics who are actually proud
of their failure to comprehend the insights of science -- a pride
in which they are so noisy and articulate and persuasive that they
make someone like myself feel slightly ashamed to be caught using
a phrase like "the insights of science."
FJ: Your writing has been called everything from "irreverent" to "blasphemous." How would you characterize your writing and, given Salman Rushdie's fate, does this vehemence affect your writing or personal behavior?
JM: Obviously a whole book could be written about the
Rushdie affair and the differences between Western and Islamic
perceptions of fiction and its power over reality. (In fact, whole
books have been written about these matters.) On most days
I don't imagine myself becoming the next Rushdie -- I don't fear
reprisals from Christian militants. At this point in history,
theological satire in the West flies well below the radar of the
religious right. There's no need for me to put a barbed-wire fence
around my house.