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The Black Book of Children's Bible Stories, by Paul Bibeau

Updated on February 21, 2016

Before Reading:

I'm not sure what to expect from this book. I love Bibeau's blog. In fact, if I type "pau" into my browser bar, his blog is the first thing to come up. Bibeau's blog, for the record, is not for those of a right-wing political or literalist Christian bent. And it's this last that has me wondering what to expect. Bibeau is an atheist and with a title like "The Black Book of Children's Bible Stories" I do have one expectation. I'm afraid that it will be a lot of the same thing I've come to expect from a lot of what another favorite blogger, Fred Clark, describes as "fundamentalist atheists." This is the belief that all Christians must by definition accept that every word of the Bible is literally true, and that, since many monstrous things happen, particularly in the Old Testament, that God must be a monster. I am a Christian, but not fundamentalist, so my relationship to the Bible is different from that. I believe that the Bible is an early attempt at writing the history of a people and of their relationship to the divine. I'll probably end up going into this in more detail in the body of my review, so I'm going to go read the book and be back later.

After Reading:

I don't think I'm smart enough for this book. "The Black Book of Children's Bible Stories" is the story of Jennifer Greene, whose parents disappeared when she was little, leaving her in at the mercy of her abusive Aunt Gloria. Once Jennifer was grown, she left and took a job as a researcher for a television series about people who have vanished. Her boss, Steve, is also her best friend. They have worked together for a couple of years at the time the book opens and are working on a story about the death of a man who looks a lot like Steve. As a result, Steve, who has always wanted to be an actor, is playing the role of the deceased when Jennifer realizes that she is being watched by a man who looks like an older version of her father.

The book cuts back and forth between Jennifer's story and that of Mike Kelley. Kelley and his wife, Lynne, had a daughter named Jennifer. The three of them had had been working on a version of a children's Bible telling the darker side of the tales when their lives fall apart.

Eventually, Steve finds a URL that leads to what looks to be Mike Kelley's blog, which is where the two stories intersect. This book is told not only in a back-and-forth fashion, but also in a nonlinear way, with lots of flashbacks and occasional bits of correspondence. This is the kind of book where you can't see what is happening until the last piece is in place, except, even once it's done, some questions seemed to me to be left unanswered and for the life of me, I can't tell whether it's because the book has flaws, or because I'm just not smart enough to "get it." I suspect it may be the second.

As the linear part of the story progresses, Jennifer is being haunted by a yellow-and-white cat and facing increasing strife with her downstairs neighbors, all against a backdrop of increasing problems with communications and the power supply of her city.

Fortunately, Bibeau did not end up beating the "God is a monster" thing too hard. One character asks the question whether there are any good things in the Bible; there's one comment about how if you don't believe that God wrote the Bible, then what's the point of having a Bible and if I recall correctly, God wanted to save as many people as possible from the Flood, but Noah was a dick and decided to let everyone drown. I may have misunderstood that part, though. I'm not sure.

When all the dust settles, there are two moments that, in retrospect, seem to have contradicted what went before. One may, again, just be me being dense, but the other does seem to be a significant plot hole.

Overall, what did I think of the book? I don't actually know. I think that it's worth a read if you want to try it, but I can't enthusiastically recommend it, either. If I were giving stars, I would probably give this one a solid three out of five.

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