by J. L. Weinberg
Published by Chelsea Stations Editions
Published October 31, 2015
352 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Review by C. Todd White
December 11, 2015
True Religion, the debut novel of New York film critic J.L. Weinberg, is as beautiful and poetic as a well-cast spell, an act of imagination rooted in history and a very real place.
Most of the action takes place in a town called Hope Springs [New Hope], a tourist destination situated across the Orenda [Delaware] River from the town of Banbury [Lambertville], New Jersey. Our hero is an aspiring journalist named Seth who, upon arriving in town with his lover for a brief respite from the New York churn, seems to have awoken a very dark—and apparently horny—evil spirit which he learns is probably the ghost of his past-life father. Worse, his present-life mother, Raven (get it?), leader of the local coven, wants him out of the picture and has turned to the dark arts to ensure his demise.
The moralistic subplot of the novel centers on Richard Abbey, a thickly bearded “radical drug guru” activist from the 1960s who is leading the Orenda Valley charge to defeat proposed construction of the Starfire nuclear plant, which would have a significant impact on the local watershed and wildlife due to its dams and spillways. (The real-world equivalent of Richard’s Damn the Dam campaign is the ongoing Stop the Pipelines project spearheaded by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network). Through Seth and Richard, Weinberg integrates spiritualism with activism throughout the book, making this book an act of consciousness raising as much as it is pure entertainment.
Another fascinating aspect of True Religion is how thoughtfully Weinberg combines aspects from several different religious traditions—Christian, Celtic, Egyptian, and Native American in particular—into a synthesis that delves into the profound without becoming too new-agey. Borrowing a little from all of these philosophies, and inspired by his own spirit guides, Seth and his growing cadre of followers set out to start a new religion, a “true” religion that will seek to balance spiritual polarities, ban blood sacrifice, and return the concept of “sacred” from the heavens back toward earth.
True Religion serves as an invocation to a new age of religious integration and earth revitalization. It does this through compelling plot turns and a sense of present and impending danger that make this book more pleasure than preachy. Still, by situating his narrative in New Hope, with its solid history of paranormal activities, Weinberg casts vivid descriptions of recognizable settings, and he provides rich historical context to establish plausibility while leaving us wanting to learn more.
Though many, the characters in True Religion are well distinguished and described, and we come to care about Seth, especially, early on. This novel is masterfully paced, a pleasure to read for any fan of the spiritual or macabre.
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