Extreme laughs

Anxious Gravity by Jeff Wells (Dundurn), 342 pages, $19.99 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNNthe closed-minded "we're right, you're wrong".

Anxious Gravity by Jeff Wells (Dundurn), 342 pages, $19.99 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN

the closed-minded “we’re right, you’re wrong” belief system of religious extremists is headline news. But while most of the world gazes east toward Islam’s jihad supporters, the first novel from Jeff Wells, the principal satirist for Frank magazine, takes a look at those more-nutty-than-dangerous Christian fundamentalists we all know and love to laugh at. The narrator, Gideon Gast, recalls his years as the son of a Marxist father and born-again mother. In his early teens Gideon turns to Maoism, but a near-death experience at a Christian summer youth retreat turns him on to Jesus and sends him off to Overcomer Bible Institute.

Strict rules, including a heavily regulated dating program and a ban on the Devil’s music, guide the way to God at Overcomer. Gideon enrolls as a naive boy, but dealing with deranged students, sexually aggressive women and false preachers turns him into a bitter man. After being dismissed three weeks before graduation for “gross sexual misconduct,” Gideon is left without a place or purpose, and the novel meekly trails off from there.

Wells has chosen an easy target for his potshots at religion, but his digs are subtle and often laugh-out-loud funny. Occasionally, though, you get the impression that the jokes are being told in Wells’s voice rather than his characters’.

It’s tough to make religion funny without resorting to South Park-style sacrilege, but Wells generally succeeds in this clever novel. Write Books at susanc@nowtoronto.com

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