Friday, October 29, 2010
The Next Queen Of Heaven by Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire's new book, The Next Queen Of Heaven, focuses on small town America and the role that religion plays in this setting. The cast of characters rely on religion in various ways for various purposes, some spiritual, some skeptical while others are going through the paces of their lives looking for ways to connect and finding them in different churches. The book is set in the small town of Thebes, New York in the late 1990's.
Jeremy Carr is the choir director at the local Catholic parish. He is hoping to make his big break after Christmas as he has won a place in a musical revue in New York. Jeremy is gay, and his singing group is made up of his friends who are also gay; one fighting AIDS. What has kept him in Thebes outside of a sense of obligation is his inability to stop loving Willem, who had a fling with him before Willem got married. Jeremy knows his love is impractical, but is stuck and can't bring himself to leave.
Another part of the book revolves around the Scales family. Mrs. Scales is raising three children by herself, and looks to religion to help her get through the days and provide a structure for her children. She is met by indifferent success, at least by the measures of traditional success. Tabitha is the oldest and the town scandal as she moves from man to man. The middle son is Hogan, a dropout who is interested in cars and garages and video games, but not much else. The youngest is a son named Kirk, who is interested in music and drama and doesn't fit in well in a traditional school setting. Mrs. Scales, who is a fundamentalist Christian, is transformed when she goes next door to the Catholic church and gets hit over the head with a statue.
There are other characters that play a part in the patterns. A group of ancient nuns live in an old convent outside of town, and a friendship develops between them and Jeremy's group. There are various ministers and priests, some of whom are helpful and some of whom use religion to accomplish their personal goals. Each person is clawing their way towards finding some meaning in their lives.
Gregory Maguire is best known for his Wicked series, which used The Wizard Of Oz story to reinterpt live and love. This new book strikes out into fresh territory, which retaining Maguire's offbeat humor and ability to delve into his character's lives. This book is recommended for all readers.