Shall We Gather at the River

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Had the pleasure of reviewing Peter Murphy’s new novel Shall We Gather at the River for The Stinging Fly magazine. Here’s an excerpt,

“Spare a thought, if you will, for the failed messiahs, the prophets who came to nothing. We tend to remember only the relatively successful ones (Jesus of Nazareth, Muhammad, L. Ron Hubbard) or the more recent doomed claimants (David Koresh, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite) with their varying megalomaniacal tendencies. To test whether the latter truly failed we’d need to come back in several millennia and check if their ramblings had managed to take hold in a sufficient number of the populace. History moves in mysterious ways. What, then, of the others? Cyrus Teed with his teachings that the earth and sky exist inside a hollow planet under a mechanical sun. Arnold Potter who, believing he would ascend into heaven, leapt from a cliff to his death. The sleepwalking divine Jacobina Mentz Maurer. Mad John Thom the bullet-proof Cornishman. Tanchelm of Antwerp. Moses of Crete. Simon the Magus. Or the ones who might, in some obscure backwater, be subject to revelations right now?

In Shall We Gather at the River, Peter Murphy explores similar terrain to that of his largely-acclaimed debut John the Revelator. It’s partially a tale of skewed adolescence (is there any other kind?) set in townland Ireland; a godforsaken and thus god-obsessed place. It’s possible to label Murphy’s style of writing as an Irish version of Southern Gothic with trace elements of noir and magic realism but to do so is crudely reductive. His town of Murn deserves to appear, on its own terms, on the maps of fictional places. For all the character sketches that make up the book, Shall We Gather at the River is on another level the study of a place where the transcendent and the macabre inhabit the apparently mundane, to those who are attuned to the right frequencies…”

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