When Jesus arrives on Earth for his second coming, he doesn’t find too many interested parties looking for a meaningful spiritual connection and relationship with God. People are “connected”, but to cell phones, computers, televisions and video games. None are looking for the Lord. As a last ditch effort to get attention, Jesus reinvents himself as a bank robber, adopting the moniker “The Jesus Bandit”, and roping in down-at-heel, hen-pecked husband, Neil, as his accomplice. Neil can have the money while Jesus grabs the glory.
Frank Turner Hellon’s The Book of Neil is easily read in just a few hours, and unfolds as a gospel of sorts. A bevy of characters, including the chief of police, President of the United States, a desperate mother searching for her mentally disturbed son and a bank clerk, and Neil himself, tell how they experience the “second coming” of the musty, yet peaceful man who suddenly enters their lives. Though opinions vary on whether he really is Christ the King, he affects each of them in unforeseen ways and causes them to probe deeper into monotonous existences too long accepted without hope for change.
Though The Book of Neil suffers from a lack of depth in characterization, the plot moves along at a brisk pace, and it reads more like a screenplay than as a narrative work. While entertaining, Hollon’s novella has room for only the broadest strokes, and it ultimately failed to thoroughly engage or move me. It raises questions that it can’t hope to answer as it builds to its startling, and rather unsatisfying, conclusion.