A Handbook of American Prayer

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Overview

From the first lines of A Handbook of American Prayer, award-winning author Lucius Shepard signals his place in the classic American tradition of confessional memoirists. While his plot is unique, his literary precedents include the great moral chroniclers of crime on the biblical scale. Wardlin Stuart is an American messiah, a man who seems to have a direct line to God—but if he does, it's a divinity unlike any you may have prayed to. Stuart's story begins when he kills a man in a bar and is sentenced to ten ...

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Overview

From the first lines of A Handbook of American Prayer, award-winning author Lucius Shepard signals his place in the classic American tradition of confessional memoirists. While his plot is unique, his literary precedents include the great moral chroniclers of crime on the biblical scale. Wardlin Stuart is an American messiah, a man who seems to have a direct line to God—but if he does, it's a divinity unlike any you may have prayed to. Stuart's story begins when he kills a man in a bar and is sentenced to ten years in prison for manslaughter. In prison, he composes prose, poems, and prayers addressed to no recognizable god. He intends to produce only small benefits, no miracles. But miraculously, what he asks for happens, whether it be a girlfriend for himself or special privileges for fellow prisoners. Soon Wardlin is regarded as a local shaman, and he emerges from prison a national celebrity. Stardom pushes Wardlin into conflict with a fundamentalist minister, and. the two are destined for a showdown. In the meantime, it seems as if the god to whom Stuart prays has come into being, and is walking the earth.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
While serving a ten-year sentence for manslaughter, Wardlin Stuart contemplates his mortality by writing prose poetry in the form of prayers, a methodology involving focus and intensity he calls prayerstyle. His philosophy is profoundly simple: "…whatever name one attached to a prayer, be it Allah or Jesus or Damballa, was less important than the intensity and particularity with which one prayed… Thus prayer, perhaps even faith, might be seen as an immoderate act of physics, a functional means of effecting small changes in reality."

When his spiritual entreaties miraculously come to fruition, other inmates begin asking him to write prayers for them -- all of which eventually come to fruition. By the time he is released, Stuart is a published author and, in the eyes of millions, the next messiah. His image is on the cover of Time and Newsweek, and he is featured on 60 Minutes and Larry King Live. But with all the sudden fame and fortune -- and all its trappings -- Stuart begins to doubt the legitimacy of prayerstyle. Is he really a modern-day shaman or just another con man?

Science fiction and fantasy fans who have marveled at Lucius Shepard's boundless imagination in previous novels (Valentine, Louisiana Breakdown, Viator, et al.) will be absolutely blown away by A Handbook of American Prayer. Like Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt and Heaven by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, the message behind this brilliantly surreal meditation on spirituality will stay with readers for a long, long time. Paul Goat Allen
Publishers Weekly
Having made his reputation with literary SF and fantasy set in the jungles of Central America (The Jaguar Hunter), Shepard embarked on a second phase in his career, exploring the back roads of America (Two Trains Running). Mixing the tropes of fantasy and noir fiction, Shepard has cobbled together a beguiling tale. Wardlin Stuart, spinning his wheels as a bartender just off of Puget Sound, gets into a drunken brawl that ends in death for his attacker. Convicted of manslaughter and imprisoned, he concocts something called "prayerstyle" as a way to survive institutional violence. To Wardin's surprise, prayerstyle works; it even brings him the love of his life. Word gets out, and other inmates ask him to create and chant prayers for them. Wardlin puts together a book of prayers, and A Handbook of American Prayer is published, resulting in parole, unwanted fame and hundreds of pleas from across the country for help. Wondering if the religion he inadvertently created is a blessing or a curse, Wardlin tries to lay low with his lady love in Arizona. But his growing popularity results in a violent encounter with a fundamentalist Christian preacher from Phoenix. And just as he's planning to give up prayerstyle, Wardlin discovers that his fictitious god may be real. This well-paced meditation on the nature of faith and our national obsession with the cult of celebrity finds Shepard at the height of his powers: poetic and pugnacious; metaphysical, yet down and dirty as a back-alley brawl. Agent, Ralph Vicinanza. (Nov. 15) FYI: A genre novel by Shepard-Viator (Forecasts, Oct. 18)-is being published simultaneously by Night Shade Books. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
While serving ten years for murder in the state penitentiary, ex-bartender Wardlin Stuart perfects a new, nonreligious method of prayer that actually works. The basic idea is that the process of composing a prayer helps to focus the mind. People get what they pray for once they know what they want, as Wardlin himself demonstrates by winning parole, finding a new girlfriend, and landing a fabulous book deal in short order. He goes on the talk-show circuit and becomes the reluctant guru of a rapidly expanding self-help cult. Christian fundamentalists denounce the "Wardlinites" as godless, and a violent confrontation seems inevitable. At first glance, Shepard appears to have penned just another Stephen King knockoff, but this ingenious and exciting break from his fantasy novels (e.g., Liar's House) is really closer to Michael Crichton: prayer as a promising new technology that quickly gets out of hand. Like Crichton, Shepard focuses on the message throughout, pushing the narrative forward without extraneous characters or wasteful digressions. This novel deserves a place on the shelf next to such classics as Robert Coover's The Origin of the Brunists (1967).-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Reformed convict leads country to rediscover the power of prayer, only to find himself slipping down the road to demagoguery. Plumbing a more realistic and downbeat vein of Americana than is found in most of his pulpier oeuvre, Shepard (Valentine, 2002, etc.) looks into the dry landscape of modern religion, with all its mundanity and unexpected transcendence. Wardlin Stuart is an angry cuss, a bartender who humiliates a drunk woman trying to cadge a free drink, later accidentally killing her boyfriend when he comes looking for blood. Stuart has his moment of clarity in prison, and starts writing pleadful poems that he calls prayers and adopting a method of delivering them to whatever deity is out there, which he calls "prayerstyle." It's an unaffected spirituality, naked in what it wants and honest about not knowing who or what is listening. But the point is that it works, and his life and attitude begin to improve. What we see of the prayers themselves are pungent little poems ("Listen, this night is a black border/around the photograph of life"), full of desire and heartbreak, and it's actually not hard to believe that a collection of them could become a phenomenal bestseller, as happens not long after Wardlin's release. His life then follows the standard arc of the American messiah: publicity tours, talk shows, attacks from fundamentalist Christians, and a rapidly growing and increasingly creepy fan base-not to mention a stalker who looks exactly like one of the recurring figures in one of Wardlin's prayers. Just when Shepard is settling into the book's groove-a dryly witty and sharply observant tone-he veers sharply off-track by sending Wardlin on a badly conceived trip south of theborder, an indulgently rambling, psychedelic-inflected dark-night-of-the-soul that gets wearisome fast. A writer who has also hinted at, instead of fully grasping, his considerable ability, chokes, rather spectacularly botching what could have been a small modern classic.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560257936
  • Publisher: Avalon Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/9/2006
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 263
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 8.16 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Lucius Shepard lives in Vancouver, Washington. An award-winning writer, he is the author of several books, including Valentine and The Jaguar Hunter, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

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  • Posted July 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This book was not at all what I expected. I did not expect this

    This book was not at all what I expected. I did not expect this book to be written by a murderer. It was a really weird book. I'm not sure I liked it. Also, the book had several grammatical errors in it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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