the Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton
(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.)
Hmmmmmm. I didn’t think this book was fantastic. It felt very disconnected.
I will say that it is an easy and quick read. But unfortunately, you don’t really get to know the characters well enough to believe them completely. And the flashbacks just don’t retrace themselves back to the main story line. It’s too much of a little bit here and a little bit there without enough of a purpose to the side stories. I actually think it would have made more sense if the book had been written in chronological order.
Henry Dampier is a young Bible Salesman. He orders free Bibles from charitable groups all over and cuts out the “free copy” page so that he can sell them door-to-door. My favorite part of the book happens in the very beginning of the story when Henry calls on a house to sell Bibles. He finds the woman of the house very upset because her cat has died very unexpectedly. She knows he is under the steps and is not moving – but she cannot bear the thought of looking at him. She is just hoping he died peacefully. He did not. Henry finds and then buries the cat for her – and tries very diligently to hide the true cause of the cat’s death from its owner to protect her from becoming too upset – and then he ends up giving her a free Bible.
This sheds a lot of light into Henry’s character. He truly wants to protect the woman simply to protect her – not for any gain on his part. Unfortunately though, Henry never seems to evaluate his own character and his own potential flaws. We learn more about Henry through this interaction with a dead cat than we learn about him from any of his dealings with the humans in the story. Henry really feels more like a bystander in the story rather than a participant – he is watching what is happening to him rather than directing what is happening. And sure, we all know people like that, but I personally think a protagonist should be a little more active in his own life.
Throughout the novel, Henry has grappled with the many contradictions in the Bible. He was conflicted about how all of it could be true – but he seemed to believe it must be true because it is simply the word of God. There was the real opportunity to draw parallels between the contradiction in Henry’s own life and the conflicting truths of the Bible. But the author just didn’t take it far enough to link the two ideas.
In the beginning of the story, Henry thinks a lot about the Bible – then he loses sight of his interest in understanding it all. Or he brushes off any decisions he makes that might not be right by simply believing the Bible has conflict – so his life has conflicts. He does not try to resolve any of it. It might be that he is distracted by his new adventure as an “FBI agent” and his new girlfriend but the book really just feels like some paragraphs are missing.
Along his journey, Henry meets Preston Clearwater who is involved in a car theft ring – Preston, however, tells Henry that he is working with the FBI on top secret cases and needs Henry’s help. Henry jumps right in to help his country out but is hesitant to give up his Bible Salesman job. Selling Bibles allows him to meet and continue to see Marleen – the very sudden love of his life – but it does not jive with his new gig as an FBI agent supposedly working undercover. This leaves a big hole in the story. It doesn’t fit that a man sneaking in and out of towns with less than honorable intentions would allow his new fledgling partner to be seen out and about, especially when murder was involved.
Henry comes from a very small town and was brought up simply. So it is not entirely unrealistic that he would be gullible to a fast talking man who appears to know about the world. He was used to just believing what other people told him was true. But still – at some point things don’t add up. Henry misses the big warning signs on a lot of what happened throughout his life and some of it just wasn’t that believable from a reader’s stand point.
This book is also hailed as having masterful comic timing. I missed that part too.
This book just seems to be a puzzle made out of square pieces – I think it could have been much more interesting and much more connected if the pieces of the story linked together rather than simply lying next to each other.
But what do I know? The book was/is a Bestseller and the author teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He has published eight other novels. So there.
Have you read it? What do you think?