AUDIOBOOK

All Saints Hotel & Cocktail Lounge
by Nathan Monk
(Audiobook read by Nathan Monk, 9h 22m,
Abbey Publishing, £16)

As a comfortably avowed non-Christian, I nonetheless approached this month’s listening entirely in, as it were, good faith. Well OK, 50 per cent.

Nathan Monk is a blue-tick Facebook ex-clergyman from Tennessee, who makes considerable hay with his departure from the Russian Orthodox Church (yep), and yet still goes by “Father Nathan”, to the inevitable chagrin of the, er, orthodox.
When I saw he had a novel out about “murder, mayhem and millennials”, and set in a dive bar, I thought I ought to check it out – not least because it’s important, every now and then, to give the enemy a chance.

All Saints Hotel and Cocktail Lounge is the tale of Leo and his friends, who grow up together, go their separate ways (one nearly becoming Pope, like something out of Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers), reunite and start an online muckraking newspaper, fall in and out of love (and bed), drink, talk and all the rest of it, and take on City Hall. A sort of Scooby-Doo, but for depressed millennials, it hits all the red-button (American) topics de nos jours – Roe v Wade; Columbine; 9/11; the housing crisis; Occupy Wall Street; student debt; the failure of Barack Obama to single-handedly revolutionise politics; the nightmare of Trump.

Oh, and it’s dedicated to Harambe.

A self-described “author, human rights activist, and former priest who stepped down in order to love and help others do the same,” I don’t think Nathan Monk’s a charlatan (though it has crossed my mind). No: his problem is that he is too sincere.

Daily online doses of this sort of right-on, waistcoat-wearing, handicraft-selling earnestness are, it turns out, one thing. But nine and half hours of it in one go is altogether different.

Sincerity in art may well be necessary, but it is not sufficient. Audible/Amazon exerts seemingly zero content-control these days (you can’t get Mein Kampf: I checked), but you’d think there’d still be basic standards of production. For an author-reader to begin with a disclaimer that he’s dyslexic, and therefore(?) hasn’t bothered to remove his verbal stumbles is extraordinary. Bloopers, “erm”s, and a genuinely never-ending shuffling of paper are all, frankly, unacceptable (imagine the musical equivalent!). I think I might ask for my money back.

Car-boot aesthetics aren’t the biggest problem, though. An aged millennial myself, I’m fundamentally sympathetic to Monk’s storyline (he’s had his struggles in life, he says), his human(e) humour, and his societal concerns. But I became rapidly less receptive to the incessant, frenzied social-justice preaching.

Leo hates his father, a synecdoche for the “perfect hypocrisy” of the entire Baby Boomer generation. House prices, job insecurity, and valueless degrees are all sins purposefully perpetrated on us by our greedy parents. Black men, we’re told, are only in American prisons because white people let drugs be smuggled in from Mexico just so they can arrest them.

As I was writing this I spotted a “banned” list of a dozen or more Gen-Z clichés, from avocado toast to “echo chambers”. Needless to say, every one of them gets a look-in in All Saints Hotel. This is meme culture run to book-length, scrawled with the impassioned, political impatience of a teenager, and so relentlessly, unbendingly pure. Like, killing fields pure.

AUDIOBOOK

Ride Sally, Ride (Sex Rules )
by Douglas Wilson
(Audiobook read by Douglas Wilson, 6h 14m,
Canon Press, £16)

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Ride, Sally, Ride – probably searching for the Monk book – but when I saw it too was written by a priest I felt sure that some fun could be had with it.

And, in fairness, some was.

It’s sometime in “the very near future”, and following the 2023 (sic) Roe v Wade repeal (both books pre-date the SC ruling, NB), America has more-or-less voluntarily gerrymandered itself into two nations: the “heartlands” vs the East and West Coasts. California is threatening to legally secede.

Keen Christian late-teen Asahel Hartwick gets invited to his neighbours’ house, only to discover that his neighbour’s wife, Sally Sassani, is in fact animatronic. A sex-doll, to be more particular. In a moment of God-given righteousness, ‘Ace’ (urgh) chucks ‘Mrs’ Sassani in the tip, and Mr Sassani then has him arrested… for murder. The case goes to a highly-publicised, exceedingly “contemporary” trial.

This is an entertaining (if disquieting) thought experiment, and, so help me, I can’t pretend I’m not on board with Douglas Wilson’s basic premises. The tragic weirdness of the virtual world; the pronouns business; identity culture generally; “progressive” book-banning; the haplessness of old-school liberals. Ace is just the kid who calls the Emperor on his nakedness.

But Wilson pushes it too far. In this supposed near-future (where, somehow, Google isn’t “big” any more), not only nineteenth-century theology but even a film in which a gentleman pulls out a chair for a woman would have to be viewed on “the dark web” to avoid censorship. Mothers apparently get heckled in the street for having as many as four kids. “Blue-state” Colorado is beyond the pale because paying for grey-listed legal services with cryptocurrency is (inexplicably) illegal.

This isn’t simply a stylistic problem. An unambiguous right-wing work of “literature”, Ride, Sally, Ride laments a USA of “fixed” (ie left-leaning) juries, the “travesty” of same-sex marriage, and gay lawyers (almost all of them, ostensibly). And what kind of America would Doug Wilson – prolific author and “conservative Reformed and evangelical” pastor of Christ Church, Moscow (yep), Idaho – prefer? Well, red states enriched by urgent oil drilling, obviously. Women paid to stay at home. And “that come-hither pout, that sexy look, like she’d just been hit in the mouth with a brick.” This last sits curiously with Wilson’s rather breathy descriptions of his all-American boy hero – like Willard Price admiring Hal’s rippling biceps in those [Animal] Adventures.

There are also stylistic problems. Expository dialogue, meandering sentence structure, and untimely delivery of information (solved, repeatedly, by “So it was…” and “By the way…”). At one point the story halts so he can scratch a fat old itch about unionised cleaners.

The general air of over-Sunday-schooled superiority (sample chapter title: “A Phinehas Moment”), is unintentionally hilarious. As is pronouncing the Pentateuch “Pendha-tooch”. Putting the “Plains” into “plainspoken”, it’s all delivered in a hurried monotone, which isn’t purposely part of an ironic armoury.

Needless to say, for all its comic posturing, Ride, Sally, Ride is not especially funny (I’d bet ten bucks he came up with that title first). Doug Wilson thinks he’s writing cutting sexual satire but can’t – or won’t – supply the punchline teed up by “Each one of us has a Sally inside of us.”

In that exemplary work of (slightly less?) right-wing American politics, Charlie Wilson’s War, the eponymous Congressman warns a Texan foreign-affairs zealot that: “Sooner or later, God is going to be on both sides.” But he meant in Afghanistan – not in the USA.

However narcissistic, it would be wrong to characterise the gap between Doug Wilson’s Old Testament God and Nathan Monk’s New Testament Jesus as mere “petty differences”. And since there’s no reason to think these novelists might disagree with their creations, their books are better viewed not as novels at all, but ill-veiled tracts. When even the professional forgiveness-merchants take up such entrenched cultural-political positions, is it ridiculous to ask how long these dis-United States can last? California might be better off alone.

ASH Smyth is a writer and radio presenter, living in Stanley. He is a member of the Falkland Islands Defence Force, and previously served in the Honourable Artillery Company, in Helmand and Kabul

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