MacRath venne, e vide e vinse. A Literary mêlée in which a tall poetic stranger takes out six gods-mortals prevail, August 12, 2012 Nobility by Reb McRath.
Nobility ranks right up there with Oh Brother Where Art Thou, a rendition of Homer’s Odyssey also set in the South. In this fine novel, we find a pantheon of Roman gods, (rather than Greek) wreaking their vengeance on unsuspecting passengers riding that soon-to-be-infamous train – the Amtrak Crescent on a Christmas Eve in 1999, when time is running out.
The word craft is delicate and beautiful at times: “A faint flurry of snow flirted shyly with the glass.” “…Ice now filigreed the window. Beyond it the sky looked unendingly black, too powerful even for Frank.”
At other times the author matter-of-factly describes the jargon of the pickpockets: Poke, Mark, Dip, Lambs, et al. “..light-fingered and wing-footed (a nod to Homer) enough to split with the wallets or pokes, the thieves bagged before the marks knew they were missing.” Another character is known by his epithet: silver beard.
As another reviewer has noted, the Palindrome Fever chapter is quite clever and there is a great deal of skillful word play throughout the work. There is also the crackle of the supernatural in this book – the otherwise unexplained bolts of electricity sent from above.
Roman gods arose from a strange confluence of cultures and superstitions around the Latium area, later known as Rome. Here we have a strange convergence of ne’er-do-wells who are willing to kill and maim to sate their newest appetite: Jove(a/k/a Jupiter, powerful, cruel and vain), Janus, Mercury, Mars, Cupid, Venus, Vulcan(god of fire), each with a role. You’ll have to read the book to enjoy each one and his/her role.
MacRath creates a banquet of the gods in the bar car:” Now the crowd in the bar car began to go wild, believing the roll held their losses. And Janus completed the picture…” but the gods were not devouring figs. It is a scene of controlled mayhem and some very fine writing.
The sights and sounds are rendered with great care and love. You will hear the clackety train on the tracks, the hiss of the radiators, the doors sliding open and shut. Note the use of black and white as you see the times and places from the narrator’s perch.
But this book is only nominally about pickpockets. Its real story is about redemption and the need of each mortal to have a purpose for his/her life. Ray and Misty discover their true missions as the train rolls on into the 21st century. “Father Thomas cleared his throat, then with a smile began to read. And his voice was just bursting with colors.” Odi et amo, indeed, but mostly amo – not “lost in the translation.” Merry Christmas in August.
(Oh, and MacRath’s mastery of the semicolon is the cat’s meow; period.)