Digging Deeper Into the Enigma That Is JESUS II and "Frank Riley"
Taking a bullet for my readership
As I slog forward in Jesus II, a book whose author and narrator hail from my hometown of Wausau, WI., I am reminded why I never bothered to read it before (other than the “Wausau parts”).
This is, so far, a pretty mediocre and “fragmented” book.
I’m not a great judge of novels, as I primarily read nonfiction. However, one cannot encounter a passage like this and not register a bit of befuddlement:
The Israeli girl who preferred to be called Mary rather than Esther said to Anton, “Please join us. We can’t equal what you didn’t get a chance to eat at Mahmoud’s, but we don’t do at all poorly . . . . . You can sit here across from Jesus. He’s anxious to talk with you.”
She led him to the table, and added earnestly, “He wants to be kind by asking you to call him Samuel, but it's so much better to start with Jesus right away. . . . . . Not Jesus II, just Jesus. Jesus II was started by the press. There’s only one Jesus with us now. The other was crucified almost 2,000 years ago.”
OK. Don’t call him “Jesus II.” Seems fair.
Interesting linguistic side-note: I was very bothered by the use of “lighted” in this sentence:
This time Mary lighted only a single candle.
In the spirit of keeping an open mind, I went over to grammarist.com and was treated to the following chart:
Jesus II was published in 1972 — lit-lighted was at the crossroads. “Frank Riley” earns a pass. We only started getting “lit” about 1980.
Also, we should keep in mind that, as I mentioned in the previous installment, “Frank Riley” is a pen name used by the late Frank W. Rhylick — also a Wausau native — who had an impressive resume. Chances are he knocked these “Father Anton Dymek intrigues” out over weekends to keep things interesting.
Meanwhile, under his real name, in 1939 Rhylick coauthored with Alan Michie a book called Dixie Demagogues, a survey of southern politicians in the period after reconstruction until the 1930’s whose stock-in-trade was racism, labor baiting, and general… demagoguery. The only other published work I could find by his coauthor was a 1944 book called Keep the Peace Through Air Power.
Back to the Narrative
There is a moment in the first chapter—before the above meeting with “don’t-call-him-Jesus II”— where the narrator of this otherwise standard third-person narrative (it really is confusing) describes a lunch meeting with Anton Dymek, who is ostensibly the main character through whose eyes we see the tale unfold.
Well, not the meeting itself; more like a discussion of how the press was clumsy in getting two different “Sister Elizabeths” confused — one of them had been indicted in “the alleged plot to kidnap President Nixon’s advisor, Henry Kissinger.” He then goes on to excoriate the media for their reportage of the story and misrepresentation of Anton.
However, he takes the time and space to add this:
I’m not including what William Buckley has written in the category of superficial reportage. From his conservative focus, Buckley is a superb reporter, and was the only journalist to have talked in depth with Jesus II. The much discussed and eagerly awaited Fifth Gospel according to Buckley should be a fascinating document.
The book, by the way, has a dedication that reads:
To William F. Buckley, Jr. With the hope his Gospel will be as inspired as his Revelations.
Recall that Dymek has traveled to Rome to talk to Father Cagliari (not Caligari) about “the Jesus thing.” Cagliari is head of something called “Special Ministries” that is set up to deal with this sort of event.
A bit later we are treated to Father Dymek visiting a local cafe, where, we are told, the waiter “breaks wind.” Remember: This is a story being told to us ostensibly by “Frank Riley” after having heard it from Dymek. Astounding level of detail for recalled incidents.
When Dymek goes to the local cafe’s restroom — perhaps prompted by the passed gas — a secret panel opens and a “young Israeli” says, “Father Dymek, this way, please.”
Thus begins his journey to visit Jesus II.
Exciting, huh? Stay tuned …