Book Review:Joshua and the City (Part 1)
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I want to talk about the book I just finished. Normally, I wouldn’t bother with a full critique, but I found this book so bad on so many different levels, I felt compelled to comment.
The book is “Joshua and the City” by Fr. Joseph F. Girzone. It was a selection of my church’s book club, which is the only reason I read it (and definitely the only reason I didn’t toss it aside after the first twenty pages). Apparently a large number of very undiscriminating people made it a Best Seller a few years back.
The novel is part of a series of books by Fr. Girzone, following the exploits of Joshua, a rather Christ-like character (actually not, but we’ll get to that in a minute) living in the modern day world. Apparently in the previous ones, Joshua wandered around the suburbs. Here, he enters a major city.
So, what wrong with it Pretty much everything.
First of all, there’s the writing. Every conversation is laughably bad. I was often at the verge of screaming at the book “People just don’t talk like that!” For example, imagine that you are an inner-city youth (with probably a less than complete education). You’ve just been a victim of a random drive-by shooting, which killed your brother. What do you think your first words, as you stand over our dead brother’s body, seconds after the shooting, would be Somehow I don’t think they would be:
“This crazy, insane city! What has happened to us The only innocent soul I even knew in my whole life, so full of goodness, so full of fun and so gentle, and killed by a damn insane idiot. Will it ever end? How will I break the news to Mama? Oh poor Mama!”
And yet, that is exactly what Fr. Girzone has Gordon say moments after his brother Elijah is murdered. Oddly, conversations that occur among white folks aren’t nearly as contorted as those Joshua has with blacks, which indicates to me that Girzone can fairly approximate normal conversations of his peer group, but, once out of his comfort zone, he quickly becomes lost. One begins to wonder if Fr. Girzone has ever even met a black person. (And we’ll return to this in a moment).
Next, we have the plot. Or to be more accurate, the lack of plot. The story plays out as such: Joshua meets someone with a problem; poof–Joshua solves the problem; Joshua checks in on them from time to time to see how perfect their lives are now. There is ZERO conflict in the first 200 pages of the book (it has 245 pages) - and when we finally get one - a price war between a furniture repair business Joshua helped establish and a rival– it lasts only two pages. The only exception to this is the murder of Elijah I mentioned above, and even that appears to be only an excuse a sermon at his funeral. After the funeral, he’s not mentioned again, and as far as I can see, there was never even a thought of calling in the police to investigate this murder.
The one main subplot is an Urban Renewal type project Joshua persuades a rich man to take on. And, it is where the story goes completely unrealistic. Some background: While I don’t recall the city being identified, from the description, it sounds very much like New York City. As the author lives in Upstate New York, I think this part of trying to stay in his comfort zone. Anyway, Joshua convinces Daniel to buy up some land in the inner city, and rebuild it. The project is described as being “over 800 acres”. By way of example, Central Park is 840 acres, so we are talking about an area approximately the same size. Actually, from the vague description given, it sounds like he means all of Harlem and Morningside Heights - about 1/10 of all of Manhattan. The project is described as costing several million dollars —- Sorry, not even close. A project the size of what is described would cost - at the very least - tens of billions of dollars. Far more that Daniel, or anyone, could pay for out of his pocket. The construction took over two years, and reopened all at once - meaning that tens of thousands of families were made homeless for two years, and no mention was made as to where they were to live during the intervening time. Further, the plan was to replace the high-rise apartment building with one and two family houses — meaning that there will be far less housing when it done then when there was to start with, meaning if the rent for one of these house was the same as the rent for one of the demolished apartments to start with, the law of supply & demand would still drive the price out of the range of those displaced. This project was to pay for itself, because the people of the community (the ones who are now homeless) would be trained in the viable craft of construction - that is, they will build the community and then live well off their new income as skilled construction workers. So what wrong with this? Well, it assumes that 100% of the residents of this community are capable of heavy construction work. Unfortunately, in reality, many are aged or single mothers caring for young children. Even if we let them off of the requirement to help build the community, they are still left with no way to afford the live in the flashy new community. And what good is having thousands of new construction workers in a city which, now that the massive construction project is complete, pretty much already had all the construction workers it needed. Which, I think is the ultimate problem with the book. If the God I believe in were to return to earth to help solve our problems, I sure He’d come with better solutions.
(But, wait – There’s More!)