In my experience, it’s rare that a novel transcends words on an otherwise blank page and becomes art. Probability Angels by Joseph Devon is such a book. The story itself is brilliant, about Matthew Huntington, a probability angel in training, and his experiences at slowly and painfully breaking away from all the emotional links he once had with other living people. His conscious choices to make these breaks, especially from his wife and daughter, are heartrending. The insights the author has into human nature reminded me somewhat of the works of C.S. Lewis, as profound but more down-to-earth and profane at times. It’s a novel that I believe rises easily to the level of some of the best classics of literature ever written. This is no hyperbole on my part; and, on top of everything else, it’s a self-published book. I wish it the success (except more so) of another famous self-published book, Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”
Much of the first part of the novel focuses on the probability angel Epp (Epictetus) and his latest trainee, a Matthew Huntington. The trainees or newbies are called “testers,” and, at first blush, seem more like devils, in that their job is to test people and push them to their limits, to see if the people will make the moral choice or succumb to temptation. But, the only way for people to grow is to be faced with tough choices, and to chose not always what might be the most comfortable or expedient choice. Sometimes the choices that cause us the most pain are the better ones in the long run.
Don’t get the idea that Probability Angels is preachy, though, or that the author is stuffy or always tries to take the moral high ground. Rather, there are some very humorous parts in the book, the characters – including the angels – often use swear words, and sometimes drink beer – and, for everyone out there who loves ‘em a good book about zombies, there are zombies aplenty in Probability Angels.
Some angels who believe that Epp, the Greek ex-slave probability angel whose life ended before Christ’s began, has been a powerful force long enough, and that he and his supporters should be overthrown. They lure other probability angels to graveyards, subdue them, and feed them to zombies, who – in turn – become stronger, heal most of their defects and deformities, and become ruthless stalkers of probability angels while masquerading as them. Epp, Matthew, Kyo (a Japanese Ronin), and other probability angels need to find a way to stop the opposition -led by the probability angel Gregor (who “pushed” Bram Stoker to write Dracula, and who resembles Stoker’s description of Dracula) and his followers, like Hector and Nyx, from destroying them.
It’s true that zombies have not traditionally been a subject of works of highbrow literature, but with the popularity of books like Pride & Prejudice and Zombies, the entertaining tongue-in-cheek retelling of one of Jane Austen’s most famous novels, who knows what might be next – perhaps Moby Dick and the Great White Zombie, or Zorba the Zombie, or a remake of the Dr. Seuss childrens’ classic, Green Eggs, Ham, & Zombies.
Joseph Devon has invested a lot of time, philosophical thinking, and effort into this book, and it shows. I would say he has put some of his soul into writing Probability Angels, and that it transcends the printed page and, at its best, enters into the world of Art, like the best paintings and sculptures do. Besides the humorous moments, and the tendency of Epp and the other probability angels of calling humans “meat bags,” there are ones of intense sadness, like when Matthew is faced with the choice between life for himself, or life for his pregnant wife, and he chooses life for his wife.
Another example is when he is given the choice of following his daughter around as an angel, being with her without her ever knowing it, not being able to help when she might need it, or to cut all ties with her and his wife and to push other people to greatness, like Shakespeare was pushed, as Epp tells him:
“The upside is that you can be greatness itself. You could be Shakespeare’s broken heart, Beethoven’s deaf ears, Van Gogh’s madness. You could be Kellar’s scarlet fever, Roebling’s crushed left foot, the color of Dr. King’s skin. You could be the entry for light to pass into the soul. You could be the reason the everything worth doing on this rock ever gets done.”
Reading writing as good as this made me feel, as I was reading, that if probability angels actually exist, one of them must have pushed and touched Joseph Devon’s soul, as well. He is one of the most talented and interesting authors around, and deserves to gain a larger reading audience for his work. I would highly recommend Probability Angels to everyone.