James Stevens-Arce,
Soulsaver
(Harcourt, 2000)

In mid-December 2099, the Christian authorities in Washington, District of Christ, have discovered the whole millennium concept was off by a century and the Second Coming is at hand. The general population of believers enthusiastically embraces the impending Rapture and obsequiously follow their spiritual leader, The Shepherdess, and her right-hand man, televangelist Reverend Jimmy Divine. No one even objects when the Bill of Rights is suspended and the New Christers cult is outlawed. Those blasphemers followed 12-year-olds Emma and Noel, deemed both the Twin Messiahs and Antichrists -- depending on who's doing the proclaiming.

Juan Bautista Lorca is a devout young man, fresh from his Suicide Prevention Corps of America training program, who believes in his soul-saving duties in Puerto Rico, the 52nd state. He and his partner, Fabriola Muñoz, retrieve bodies of those who try to escape the overpopulation, starvation and dismal opportunities of the late 21st century through suicide, freeze them and rush the "corpsicle" to Saint Francis of Assisi Resurrection Center.

The young Juan Bautista we meet in the opening chapters of Soulsaver is idealistic, naive, shallow and annoying. John Stevens-Arce inflects his hero's dialogue with corny slang, peppering his speech with sayings such as "Tommy Terrific" and "Sally Silly." Fortunately, this trend is primarily for comparative purposes and ceases as suicides increase dramatically, Juan's internal and external belief conflicts grow, and he's drawn into the intrigue surrounding both the ruling religious/political machine and the twins.

Stevens-Arce knows how to tell a story. The chapters are concise and brief, changing with each setting. The language is direct rather than flowery, showing the horrendous conditions of life and temporary death and allowing Juan Bautista to tell his own story through dialogue and a confusing array of thoughts revealing ambiguous clues regarding loyalties toward heaven and hell.

Soulsaver is a cautionary tale, at times overly obvious: the priests and high ranking officials are plump and ostentatious while the faithful peons starve. But overall, the tale is compelling, thought-provoking and disturbing, a quick-read that pulls the reader into a society we pray will never exist.

[ by Julie Bowerman ]



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