The Beginning of Calamities: A Novelby Tom House
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Danny Burke, the unforgettable central character of "The Beginning of Calamities," is a shy, 11-year-old Catholic school student who is at once hilarious and mortifying. As a ploy to stay inside at recess and avoid the roughhouse in the schoolyard, he writes a play from the Gospels, The Passion of Christ, and it is produced at his school--a production that goes seriously awry.
Danny is the product of a quirky family, and destined to be gay. His story, set in the blue-collar Long Island suburb of East Islip in the 1970s, is a dark, domestic comedy of the awkwardness and agony of childhood. Danny's young fifth-grade teacher, Miss Kaigh, is impressed with the script of his Passion play and obtains permission to perform it for the class. But as word of the play spreads through other classes, Sister Regina, the principal, arranges for it to be performed for the entire school. The only volunteer actors are, like Danny, shy or misfits in some way. Danny, also prone to stuttering, wants terribly to play the role of Christ, but is prevented at first by his teacher and mother, who believe he could never pull it off. After watching with frustration as several boys fumble through and quit the part, Danny is given the role by default. Danny's initial quest for acceptance by his peers turns gradually into ever-greater identification with Christ and the pursuit of his own religious ecstasy. One thing after another goes wrong, at school and at home. Danny is encouraged in his increasingly unruly Messiah complex by a biblical character he fantasizes, a boy named Arram. In a surprise ending, the play's performance turns the school--and the town--on its ear the afternoon before Easter vacation.
The novel's title is taken from a section of the New Testament known as "the apocalyptic gospel," in which Christ describes the first terrible things that will befall the apostles as they continue His ministry.
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