In the early weeks of his freshman year in college, Greg Bryce is contacted by a secret admirer who claims that Greg has been ordained as the new god. The old Christian God is weakening, and the new god must rise to power and assume control. While most 18 year olds would be on the phone to their parents with the first letter proposing their divinity from a stranger (the action takes place in the 1980s – hence communication occurs only via phone and snail mail), Greg is intrigued. Greg, we gradually learn, has had his share of psychiatric issues in his adolescence, and gosh-darn it, this new god-thing plays right into his mental illness. As the apostle/high priest becomes bolder in his indoctrination of Greg, he (a defrocked minister in Indiana) explains to Greg the various tasks – through letters – the young man must complete in order to make the transformation to the Supreme Being. The minister, by the way, is getting these instructions from none other than John the Baptist, who inexplicably seems to have switched allegiances from Jesus to the new god, Greg.
Follow this thus far? Actually, the progression throughout the novel makes perfect sense – which is a credit to Ms. Cushing’s writing. Anyhow, the tasks involve a series of sordid activities, not the least of which is the gruesome torture of Greg’s college roommate. I won’t elaborate any more on the plot. What’s important to note, however, is that the narrative goes in directions I did not see coming. And, things do get quite creepy.
Ms. Cushing uses a rather unique point of view. Alternative chapters, with some exceptions, are told in the first person from either the defrocked minister’s perspective or Greg’s perspective. The mental illness of the two characters is quite evident, and I found myself rather unnerved by seeing the world from these points-of-view. So, that aspect of the story is quite effective. If I have any criticism, it would be that after a while the two characters were sounding too much alike. I suspect that trying to maintain two distinct but different psychotic perspectives is a tough act to pull off. Also, Ms. Cushing wisely chooses to insert some third person narratives, mostly from the omniscient perspective of police investigators. This grounded the narrative in a sense of reality that helps anchor the story.
Overall, this is an effective horror story about not one, but two, descents into madness – with a cool twist at the end. It doesn’t always work, but the effort is a marvel to read.