“The Tongues of Men and Angels: A Novel”
Author: Marian Carcache
Publisher: Solomon & George Publishers
Price: $15.00 (Paper)
Marian Carcache is the author of a short story collection, “The Moon and the Stars.” “The Tongues of Men and Angels” is her first novel, if novel is what it is.
Her author information reads that Carcache’s father was a Justice of the Peace in Russell County and she often eavesdropped on his court. I am pretty sure she did not hear this tale in her father’s court.
Difficult to describe, “The Tongues of Men and Angels.” In its evocation of myth and archetype, one might compare it to Daniel Wallace’s “Big Fish.”
Or it may be sui generis.
One could call it a fairy tale, a fable, a newly minted legend. It partakes of magical realism, but whereas magical realism is to me a story of regular mortals going about their lives with the occasional extraordinary event—a levitation for example, inserted calmly, as if it were perfectly normal, “The Tongues of Men” is a wild mix. There are love stories, death stories, creation stories, demonstrations of supernatural powers, miracles and madness. It is a novel of religious fervor, perhaps mania, but while it is sometimes comical it is not satirical. I don’t think it actually is meant to ridicule religion or the characters or events in the tale, however over the top they may seem.
The first sentence reads: “The year Skye Pentecost”—yes, all the names are flagrantly evocative—“came to Alabama in search of Celeste Pittman was the year a woman up around Atlanta saw Jesus in a plate of spaghetti on a Pizza Hut billboard [and ] …a lady near Birmingham reported seeing apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in a vacant lot next to her trailer.”
Celeste has powers: she brings a child back from the dead and, while preaching, heals so many “soon they had a to rent a storage unit to hold the leg braces and wheelchairs, the boxes filled with hearing aids and glasses that the healed had left behind.” The source of her power is “her belief in Love . . . her conviction that love could conquer what fear could not.”
Skye, a self- styled investigative reporter, means to debunk Celeste and her estranged evangelist husband, Layman, who had lain with too many of his choir, the Celestial Singers. Layman, now in a strait jacket, is in the news because he had hanged himself, unsuccessfully it turned out, from a cross, because Celeste had left him. She had tried earlier but Layman kept her by driving a nail through his hand, and threatening even more unsavory self-mutilation.
Skye, seeking his exposé, will fall in love with Celeste and we will learn both their biographies. Celeste was born in a floating, inflated Army surplus lifeboat on the Chattahoochee, Moses-like, to the wandering Roberto De Luna and the ethereal Claire Bellflower.
Skye was conceived and then born in the sleeping compartment of an 18-wheeler and his father, Manny, became an evangelist, then Skye became a successful child evangelist, before becoming disillusioned.
In the course of this brief novel we will meet the main characters’ fathers, mothers, grandparents, almost all of whom seem tangled in sex, faith and miracles. Many of the scenes and characters are illustrated, as well, in black-and-white linocuts and drawings, like a nineteenth-century novel.
If you are tired of conventional, realistic fiction “The Tongues of Men and Angels” might be a tasty change.
This review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio. Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark” and the editor of “A State of Laughter: Comic Fiction from Alabama.”