Gospel: A Tale of Human Mortality and a Girl by Simon Plaster

Reviewed by Rich Stoehr

In the little town of Henryetta, Oklahoma, it seems that people have just stopped dying. But in ‘Gospel: A Tale of Human Mortality and a Girl,’ that’s just the backdrop.

There’s a marquee not too far from where I live, one of those signs with black, replaceable letters, where the message changes every once in a while. Lately, I’ve noticed that it reads “ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE – STOCK UP ON SURVIVAL GEAR NOW!” It reminds me of Simon Plaster’s book, and hopefully you’ll see why by the time I’m done here.

There’s a lot going on in this book – no, I mean a LOT. In addition to the no-death thing, we’ve got a “Gung Ho” survivalist boot camp for pooped business types, a new yoga studio with some pretty special brownies and unique moves, a church with a drive-thru window for their “HOT AS HELL” chili, and a young reporter named Henryetta (yes, named for the town) looking to get one of those Pulitzer Prizes by breaking a big story in her little town.

Everywhere Henryetta turns, someone’s got a new theory about why people don’t seem to be dying – everything from nitrous oxide seeping into the water supply to aliens (of course) to the End Times to hints of a zombie apocalypse. There’s evidence to support all of it, from a blistering-hot summer drought season to a woman whose ankle gets slightly chewed by a teenager, but not enough to figure it all out for sure. Henryetta is bound and determined to try, though, a search which forms the backbone of the novel.

There’s a lot of side stories going on here too, from Ol’ Sarge, leader of the Gung Ho Boot Camp, and the metal plate in his head and his near-death experience whenever someone says the d-word (not what you might think), to Lavila the new-in-town yoga guru (sort of) trying to drum up business and get to her own personal Nirvana, to the Brothers Bean (Junior and Senior) distinctly at odds on just about everything, including what message to put on their marquee to the meaning of scripture. It’s a lot of roads to travel, but when the story start to go astray, as it occasionally does, it’s always brought back into focus with Henryetta and her search for why (and if) nobody seems to be dying in town anymore.

There’s a lot of fun had along the way, at pretty much everyone’s expense. Plaster is merciless and sometimes ridiculous in his parodies of religion, survivalism, big box stores, celebrities, yoga, journalism, conspiracy theories, small-town life, and people in general. More than a little reminiscent of Vonnegut when he really gets going, Plaster spares nobody, but still manages to tell an engaging story.

I lost count of how many times I cracked a smile or chuckled while reading ‘Gospel.’ Nothing was laugh-out-loud funny, but it definitely hit the right notes as it poked fun at…well, at everything. This isn’t a book to be taken too seriously. It reads fast and it reads fun, ends well and even has a little something to say at the end. No, I’m not going to tell you what that is – go on and read it for yourself if you want to know.

Back to that sign – the “ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE” one I mentioned earlier. Why did I bring it up? It’s also (I hope!) not meant to be taken too seriously, and unlike most of those black-lettered messages I see on the road every day, I remember it. It’s different. It’s funny. It sticks in my head and makes me crack a smile. Someday, that guy might be asked to take it down by someone with no sense of humor, but that won’t be me.

Simon Plaster, here’s to you. You’re a little crazy, I think, but I like what you have to say!

Disclosure in Accordance with FTC Guidelines 16 CFR Part 255

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