James Morrow,
Only Begotten Daughter
(Harvest, 1990/1996)

The solitary keeper of an abandoned lighthouse supplements his meager living donating semen to an Atlantic City sperm bank. But one of his many donations takes root in a holy egg, a divine fertilization from Holy God the Mother, and soon Murray Katz -- who rescues the embryo from the bank shortly before it's firebombed by religious fanatics -- is growing a fetal daughter in his laundry room.

Murray hopes to keep her metaphysical origins secret from his daughter, Julie, but miracles soon manifest nonetheless. Still, she is an obedient daughter and she strives to keep her divinity under wraps, despite the general temptations of a suffering world and more specific temptations from the Devil. There's a visit to Hell, a family reunion and a return to New Jersey of the near future, now a sovereign state run by religious extremists.

It's hard to define Only Begotten Daughter without taking far more space than is available here. It's a comedy. It's a drama. It's a social commentary on religion, sexuality and tabloid journalism. It's a heartwarming inspiration. It's a knee-slapping satire.

It's also noteworthy, winner of the World Fantasy Award and a finalist for the Nebula and John W. Campbell awards.

The story is riveting, with plenty of unexpected turns to keep the reader guessing what Morrow has up his sleeve. But the real hallmark here is in characterization; the author has created incredibly believable people here despite the incredible premise. Atlantic City, a mecca for gambling and corruption despite its seashore charm, is a perfect setting for the tale.

Anyone willing to look beyond the usual definitions of God will surely enjoy the story as Julie comes to grips with her divinity, with adolescence and adulthood, and with the realities of a world unprepared for Jesus's sister.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 18 August 2002

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