Overall: 4 out of 5 bookmarks
I’m of two minds about this novel. On the one hand, it’s an intriguing (if somewhat familiar) premise with unique characters and an unapologetic tone. On the other hand, it was a story in search of a plot that never quite materialized and, because there were so many characters, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of individual character development. Under normal circumstances, I’d be giving a novel sans in-depth character and plot development a pass, but in this particular case it gels in a way that leaves you thinking and wanting more which is, of course, what a good book does.
I’m not going to go into any real detail about the novel itself because I do recommend reading it. Randy Attwood has a deft touch with his characters and following them through their lives in a corrupt theocracy is definitely a worthwhile read. To be contradictory, I couldn’t read Rabbletown for long periods of time; I had to keep stopping to come up for air. Not because the story was bad, but because it got intense after a while; more the slow burn of combined spices than the instant fire of jalapenos. I kept reaching a saturation point where I had to stop and do something else but it kept drawing me back.
The overview of the story is that the major governments of the world wiped each other out with a nuclear strike after 9/11, but that even before that, the Religious Right took control of the US Gov’t in a major way. After the fallout, the US transformed into a theocracy from the revivalist/evangelist sects and wiped out (i.e.: massacred) all other religions except the Catholics, who were allowed on sufferance due to their technical learnings. Books were burned. History was destroyed. Freedom was wiped out. Gays are unapologetically called faggots and stoned to death, along with adulterers and ‘heathens,’ generally anyone against the status quo. Into this world, the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich, divided by deep lines of religious power and the lack thereof. At first glance, it seems like a “stereotypical” post-apocalyptic tale of zealotry gone wrong, but it’s not.
The majority of the book takes place in Topeka, KS, which has a ghetto area called Rabbletown where the fringe of society ekes out an existence that barely qualifies as one. We start out with a simple bricklayer, Bob Crowley, working on the largest religious edifice built since the nuclear strike. We meet his family: his devout wife, his odd son, and a daughter that hates him, along with a passel of other children who don’t get named. We then travel up the ranks, so to speak, and view the world from a succession of more powerful levels until reaching the “Pastor President” and then coming back to the Crowley family where, it turns out, God speaks through the eldest son, Bobby.
From there it’s a drive of religious fervor and hatred to stamp out the ‘devil possessed’ boy as well as the renewal to teach the ‘correct’ interpretation of Jesus (the way of love and forgiveness, etc.) by those who live in Rabbletown and follow Bobby as Christ reborn. My main complaint at this point is, as I said, that by having so many characters, we don’t really delve into any of them. We also don’t know anything from Bobby’s point of view, which in my opinion is one of the few downsides to this book, although I’m sure it’s a deliberate move on the author’s part. And here, having thought on it, I’ll have to say that it’s not so much lacking a plot, per se, but more that we meander through the lives/storylines of a lot of characters all converging on the same events. There’s no A to B to C and back to A like most novels, but this isn’t a bad thing. It suits Rabbletown well and certainly keeps things interesting.
Now, I’m an agnostic so I’ll freely admit it took me a solid month to even crack this book open. I knew it was going to be heavy on religion and that’s not even close to being my cuppa. It was only because my editor, Katy Sozaeva, pimped it on her blog that I broke down and started reading. And I’m glad I did, because even with its minor “flaws,” Rabbletown is a well-written, cautionary tale that’s half-allegory and half-character study. If you’re easily offended by derogatory terms and the matter-of-fact, Handmaiden-esque sexual slavery of women, then this isn’t the book for you. If you’re looking for something different to read, something weighty and thoughtful, then this is definitely the book to buy.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what else Randy Attwood comes up with. And I’m kinda jealous I didn’t write this one myself. I think that’s the best praise another writer could give.
Note: I haven’t been paid by anyone to review this book.