A Handbook of American Prayer: A Novel

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9781568582818: A Handbook of American Prayer: A Novel

A man walks into a bar. A dispute ensues, and the bartender kills him. He's sentenced to ten years for manslaughter. In prison, the convict, Wardlin Stuart, writes prayers addressed to no god in particular. Inexplicably, his prayers — whether it's a request for a girlfriend or a special favor for a fellow inmate — are answered, be it in days or weeks. When his collection of supplications, A Handbook of American Prayer, is published by a New York press, Stuart emerges a celebrity author. Settling into a new life in Arizona, he encounters a fundamentalist minister. The two are destined for a confrontation. In the interim, it seems that the god to whom Stuart has been praying has manifested himself on the earth. In this short novel about America's conflicting love triangle — celebrity, spirituality, and money — Shepard negotiates the thin line between the real and the surreal, expounding upon violence and redemption along the way. This story of an unlikely American messiah shows why The Wall Street Journal has compared Shepard, an award-winning author, to Graham Greene, Robert Stone, and Ward Just.

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About the Author:

Lucius Shepard lives in Vancouver, Washington. An award-winning writer, he is the author of several books, including Valentine and The Jaguar Hunter, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. Having made his reputation with literary SF and fantasy set in the jungles of Central America (The Jaguar Hunter), Shepard embarked on a second phase in his career, exploring the back roads of America (Two Trains Running). Mixing the tropes of fantasy and noir fiction, Shepard has cobbled together a beguiling tale. Wardlin Stuart, spinning his wheels as a bartender just off of Puget Sound, gets into a drunken brawl that ends in death for his attacker. Convicted of manslaughter and imprisoned, he concocts something called "prayerstyle" as a way to survive institutional violence. To Wardin's surprise, prayerstyle works; it even brings him the love of his life. Word gets out, and other inmates ask him to create and chant prayers for them. Wardlin puts together a book of prayers, and A Handbook of American Prayer is published, resulting in parole, unwanted fame and hundreds of pleas from across the country for help. Wondering if the religion he inadvertently created is a blessing or a curse, Wardlin tries to lay low with his lady love in Arizona. But his growing popularity results in a violent encounter with a fundamentalist Christian preacher from Phoenix. And just as he's planning to give up prayerstyle, Wardlin discovers that his fictitious god may be real. This well-paced meditation on the nature of faith and our national obsession with the cult of celebrity finds Shepard at the height of his powers: poetic and pugnacious; metaphysical, yet down and dirty as a back-alley brawl.
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