Evangellyfish Chapter One – Deeply Rooted in the Blues

A barrel jellyfish floats in Slovenia. Photograph by WaterFrame, Alamy

Photo courtesy of National Geographic

 

In 2008, Douglas Wilson wrote the novel Evangellyfish. It was one of his attempts to break out into the Christian mainstream, as rather than immediately publishing it under Canon Press, he shopped it around and tried to get it printed under someone more legitimate than his vanity label. After getting nothing but rejection letters (snippets of which he posted online) he decided to publish the book chapter by chapter online at Evangellyfish.com (now defuct). Eventually, he bit the bullet, embraced the inevitable and in 2012 the book was published under, you guessed it, Canon Press.

The benefit of this is I believe that Evangellyfish offers a deep look into the shallow waters of Wilson’s worldview, how he sees the world and his place in it. Thanks to his decision to push it online first (I don’t know why he decided to do this instead of just pushing it to Canon Press. Maybe he thought it would drum up excitement?) the book is available, for free, to all of us to review. You can access it here.

First things out of the way, this is basically a NaNoWriMo novel and it feels like it. The word count is barely above 50,000, which is not damning in and of itself but definitely something I’d consider before dropping $20-$25 for the hardcover. Next off, this book won the Christianity Today 2013 Book of the Year award in Fiction, which probably means that there is some merit here I can’t see. I’m sure much smarter, more well-read people than myself determine those awards.

At the very least this has inspired me to get serious about NaNoWriMo next year, if this book qualifies then I’m sure I could crank something similar out.

Chapter One starts to by introducing us to our hero and Doug Wilson stand-in, John Mitchell. He’s Baptist, but still drinks a little (maybe celebratory Lagavulin?), he has a beard (of course), and he’s manly enough that he’ll give a lout a black eye if he gives him reason. He also makes unusual references to describe his job, a seemingly out of context quote to the movie Fletch and describing everything he does as “deeply rooted in the blues”. If anyone can make sense of those two references for me, I’d deeply appreciate it. All I can think of for that last bit is a fairly famous Onion article. Like Wilson, Mitchell has an undergrad in philosophy, unlike Wilson, Mitchell went to seminary. See? There are just enough key differences to throw you off.

We’re also introduced to Chad Lester, a pastor at a megachurch (of course) who Mitchell gave that black eye when it looked like Lester was advancing on his sister-in-law. Lester is, right away, an odious fiend. Calling Mitchell in for help but calling him out as a “better-than-you boy” when he arrives. Lester does not drink, except when he does. And when he does he drinks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Not like a man who enjoys Lagavulin, this man grabbed a bottle of tawny port (I do love a good port) to illustrate that he doesn’t know how to drink. He’s also turned on the hotel pornography, you know, out of reflex, doesn’t even know it’s on, just to drive it in what a creep this guy is.

And that’s basically chapter one. On one side we have manly, bearded, eye-blackening, family man John Mitchell and on the other side we have lecherous, pornography watching creep Chad Lester who doesn’t know how to drink properly.

There’s definitely no straw-men or Mary-Sues in this book.

And if anyone can explain that Fletch quote or what “Deeply rooted in the blues” means, I’d really appreciate it. Maybe this is why Mitchell’s congregation is so small.

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Evangellyfish Chapter One – Deeply Rooted in the Blues

  1. I’ve read all four of your posts and found them delightful!! Thank you so much and I will be checking in on a regular basis to enjoy your “surgically” inspired words. Many happy thrusts of the scalpel to you!!

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  2. CiceroKirk, Thank you for this tasty fillet of a blog post. I’ve come back to read it three times just for enjoyment. You were forced to trawl the shallow, turbid waters of Wilson’s prose, then managed to deftly de-bone a bottom feeding catfish with gentle good humor. Based on your review, I may attempt to read Evangellyfish by pretending it is a long form Bulwer-Lytton entry.

    “Not Deeply Rooted in the Blues” is a title of this short Wilson quote post from 2007: “It is still possible to find the tough, affirmative spirit of the blues in contemporary forms. But increasingly, that spirit is rejected in favor of antimusical, antisocial antics that would be laughable if they weren’t so offensive” (Martha Bayles, Hole in our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music, p. 3).

    To clarify, I found this on an internet search. Have attempted to read a few DW posts, but can’t go beyond the first few slithery sentences. He wants us to think that his posts are a chew toy with a tasty treat inside, and if we work really, really hard, we’ll get a REWARD in the form of a hidden nugget of his wisdom followed (naturally) by much tail wagging on the part of the reader. So no, just NO.

    At 67 (or at any age) I’m not likely to be needing it, but wanted to point out that Tawny Port is a great name for a pole dancer.

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  3. I feel there’s something going on psychologically for many devoutly religious people in which they need to explain why they are cooler or different from other devoutly religious people who are the “wrong kind”. I get this vibe a lot from Doug Wilson and his followers. They grew up conservative evangelicals, but have decided there is something wrong with it. But what they do instead is just some new form of legalism and tribalism.

    I kind of feel like this is an intrinsic problem when you grow up believing “religiosity” fuels everything you are supposed to do. They can’t just live a normal life. No, it has to be something more than that. Everything has to be some kind of religious cause – even what kind of booze they prefer.

    When I was growing up in evangelical circles the version of this we saw a lot had to do with what kind of media you consumed. All of your music choices had to be extremely religiously informed. Movies, books and TV shows did to some extent at times as well.

    The whole thing just seems absurd to me at this point in my life. People should live their lives in humility and love, remembering the good news of God’s forgiveness and salvation. To me, that’s what Christianity is all about. All this other posturing and cultural causes and stuff… it just seems so incredibly absurd. I hope my kids never grow up with that stuff as a “norm”.

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  4. Did you see Fletch (1985) starring Chevy Chase? Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher (Chevy Chase) is an investigative journalist who gets arrested on a trumped-up drug possession charge because he found evidence that the chief of police was involved in the distribution of drugs on a California beach. The cops unload Fletch in the Chief’s office so he can intimidate Fletch into ending his investigation. The Chief begins by asking routine questions, to which Fletch gives sarcastic and misleading answers:

    Chief: “Name?”

    Fletch: “Fletch.”

    Chief:”Full name.”(not exact quote)

    Fletch: “Fletch F. Fletch.”

    Chief: “What’s your occupation, Mr. Fletch?”

    Fletch: “I’m a shepherd.”

    Fletch’s general character is that of the typical movie smart-mouth wise-guy. I can see how a pastor would find the line amusing and identify with it, but the problem is, the movie isn’t well-known enough for a reference to it to be recognized except for by that rare person (like yours truly) who saw and remembers the movie.

    It happens to be my favorite Chevy Chase movie.

    Does this explanation help, or do you have further questions about Wilson’s use of the reference?

    To me, it seems appropriate for Wilson to add that his character often had to explain the reference because it’s only funny to the joke-teller. I find myself in that situation more often than I’d like to admit. A friend says I’m the kind of guy who tells “jokes for one person.”

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