The acclaimed satirist and bestselling author of Father Joe poses the question, would we recognize the messiah if he appeared today... and delivers, in the words of Frank McCourt, "just what the country needs nowa good dose of merriment in the face of crawthumping righteousness."
In the not so distant future of Tony Hendra's novel, the tide of righteousnessin the form of executions, barking evangelists, tank-like SUVs, and a movie industry run entirely by the Christian righthas swept the nation. Aside from the non-white, the non-Christian, and the non-wealthy, all are believers. Among the skeptics is a washed-up journalist named Johnny Greco, who hears of a media-shy young man known as "Jay"roaming through ghettos, healing the sick, and tossing off miracles. Soft-spoken and shabbily dressed, Jay is an unlikely savior for this antsy and intolerant America. But as he makes his rounds, gathers followers, and makes furious enemies among the righteous powers that be, Johnny finds it harder and harder to doubt him.
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About the Author
Tony Hendra was editor in chief of Spy, an original editor of National Lampoon, and played Ian Faith in This Is Spinal Tap. His first book, Father Joe, was a New York Times bestseller. He lives in New York.
Reading Group Guide
About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about The Messiah of Morris Avenue are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach The Messiah of Morris Avenue.
1. Critics have called the novel a satire of contemporary America. Which elements of the imaginary, future USA do you think are closest to their counterparts in the present? Which are most outlandish? Is there any trait or tendency that all the objects of satire in the novel share?
2. Look at the physical descriptions of the main characters in the story (for example, Maria (pg. 39), Reverend Sabbath (pg. 13) and Jay (pp. 46-47). How does the author translate the inner lives of these characters into their appearance? What can you tell from these physical descriptions about his representation of good and evil?
3. Why did the author choose Johnny Grecoa bitter, hard-drinking reporter with a record of compromising his beliefsto tell this story? How does he use Johnny's particular experiences and perspective to tell the story of Jay's life and ideas?
4. Look at the "Sayings of Jay" (pg. 74.) Is this an accurate representation of the teachings of Jesus as you understand them? Do you feel that these ideas are in circulation among religious (or non-religious) people in America today? How would a politician who went by this creed be received?
5. "Journalists like to pretend that tearing down and ruthlessly exposing is hard work," Johnny says (pg. 81), "but what makes time fly is that tearing down is fun. It's real easy. Whereas, whatever it's opposite is, is fucking difficult." Do you think this is true? If so, how do you think it plays out in America today?
6. "Blessed are the doubters, for doubt is the path to truth." How do you think this idea of Jay's is enacted in the novel? Are there characters in the story that do not experience doubt? What happens to them? In your experience, is doubt more of a handicap or a virtue?
7. Jay tells Johnny early on in the novel that "Words are a debased currency". What does he mean in the context of his mission, and how does this idea translate into his actions? What truer form of communication do you think Jay means to substitute for words? Do you think words still have the same power in our society that they've always had?
8. When you were reading the novel, did your image of Jay incorporate elements of your own ideas about Jesus Christ? Or did you imagine him as entirely a character within the novel? How does this portrayal of the messiah square with your own image of him?
9. Do you think the book intends to satirize particular real-life figures? If so, who? Do you think the satire is justified? Is it effective?
10. Despite hearing accounts of miracles and being deeply affected by his own contact with Jay, Johnny never entirely comes around to believing in him as the messiah. Do you think most people are more willing than he is to believe in a higher power, or less so? If you had experienced what Johnny does, would believe in Jay?
11. Why do you think the author included Father Duffy's remark (pg. 134) that Jay was just an average altar boy, "no worse than the rest"? What does this say about the kind of messiah the author has created, and about his vision of righteousness?
12. All things considered, do you think The Messiah of Morris Avenue is more of a satire or an inspirational story?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
this book should no more be christian fiction than the exorcist! it might be religious, but that doesn't mean it falls into the "christian fiction" genre. beware - do not purchase by product type - read the synopsis and reviews!!!
What a refreshing book to follow Tony Hendra's poignant story about Father Joe. Sans some of the political undercurrents I found this story both thought provoking and entertaining. Our world today could use a large dose of Hendra's Messiah.
I loved this book SO much. It really shows that sometimes we tend to get the message wrong. It was so beautiful and very moving and a real eye opener. I couldn't put this book down.
Even though you know the ending before you get more than a few pages into the book, one still can't put this one down. The Messiah of Moris Avenus brings hope to a troubled (and decidedly theocratic) world and is a mixture of miracles and modern day truth-telling. He reminds us of what religion was supposed to be, correcting long-held maxims and gently guiding his followers to an understanding of his original message. This book is a 'sleeper'. In the same way as 'Tuesdays With Morrie', this book will spread by word of mouth until everyone will either have read it or heard about it.
This book really makes you open your eyes and realize 'the right' isn't always right. Wake up America!
This book tackles a touchy subject -- religion and politics -- by cutting a broad, humorous swath and by inching quite close to reality. Everyone who votes in America should read this. Great characters, a retelling of an incredible story, warmth and laughter, but at the core, a serious tale of politicians who need to be checked.
In the future, America is a theocracy run by fundamentalist Christians who passed laws outlawing everything under God. Meanwhile Christ returns, but not in the acceptable way the ruling theocrats demanded. Instead he does so in the South Bronx where he wears the human garb of the son of a female Guatemalan immigrant and an Irish father who is never around. Jos begins to obtain a street following.------ Jos performs miracles including one that leads to jail time in Connecticut for curing a leukemia victim without a medical license. He quickly persuades cynical journalist Johnny Grecco that he is the savior though his name is anglicized to Jay. . Shockingly Jay insists that all we need is love and tolerance for others to live a holy existence as expected by God the mother. On the other hand he detests war and could not care less about intelligent design, creationism or any other label.----- Meanwhile the renowned Reverend detests such blasphemy and wants Jay stopped. The Reverend seeks a modern day Judas to betray Jay. He thinks he found his silver lining with Grecco¿s desire for Pulitzer level fame and employs Texas style justice when Jay commits treason by preaching blasphemous pacifism when this country is about to invade Israel.----- This sharp satirical tale rips up the fundamentalist right by tearing away the veneer of euphemistic 3 second bite labels and shreds even more the afraid to say the L word liberals. The irony of this cautionary futuristic tale is that the satirical elements seem light when compared with Jay¿s message of give peace a chance in a world in which war is the solution (by macho bring em on armchair generals). Tony Hendra provides a thought provoking thriller that warns that if unchecked, America could turn into an intolerant United States of Theocracy.---- Harriet Klausner