The Word review

bookshelves: mysteryreligiousclassicschallenging-literature,historical-fiction

Recommended for: history buffs everywhere, with an emphasis on religion and archaeology.
Rating: 3.5 stars

 

New York in the 1970’s, business is booming. Amongst the world’s top businessmen is Steven Randall, head of a successful public relations firm. Around him, the government is growing increasingly secretive and equally controlling. Big Business has devolved into an almost unrecognizable entity, one that preys on the American public, denying products of convenience and pragmatism to all except the wealthy, in order to profit billions.

But Randall is different. He views the world through cynicism glasses, and although he isn’t against making a decent living, he isn’t greedy, either. Not like Big Business and Big Government. In more ways than one, he’s a bi-product of the 1960’s.

And yet, he isn’t alone. He’s thought highly of in his job. He’s respected by his peers. Outside of work, his family loves him very much, despite their strained relations. There is strnegth in numbers, and with that comes hope.

At the same time, something unprecedented is about to disrupt Randall’s life, and the publishing world at large. To understand the implications of that, Irving Wallace takes the reader into the seedy reaches of Ostia Antica, Rome, and the site of a monumental discovery. An Italian archaeologist (who may be more insane than stable,) has unearthed an unprecedented biblical find; a sixth gospel, written by the brother of Jesus, known commonly as James the Just. His account paints a significantly different life than what’s told in the previous five books. Different, but in no way offensive. Those are some of the archaeologist’s claims. He believes in the cause wholeheartedly, which begs some questions: can he be trusted, and-taking things another step further—is he thinking rationally? Acting soundly? In what ways will his instability effect his decisions? In the simplist of terms, his judgment is unreliable.

It is these middle sections that impressed me the most, suctioning me in further and further, and much of that came from Wallace’s powerful writing. It’s fascinating and profound without being didactic. His prose is seething with history, from an archaeological as well as a biblical standpoint. The Word was clearly researched well; exhaustively, in fact. I could read this stuff all day.
Along the way, characters such as Randall, his friend Angela, and the enigmatic Dominee Maertin de Vroome, took on lives all their own, making choices which helped define their new blossoming selves, but in wholly believable and realistic ways. They grew and matured, gradually evolving into stronger, more confident, and better human beings. As the plot and subplots unfolded, I came to love and genuinely admire these characters, especially the one whom I never thought I’d like, let alone respect: Steven Randall.

In the midst of everything, the novel embraced theories all its own; conspiracy theories deeply entwined in the modestly stunning narrative that it was nearly impossible to pinpoint each one, without feelings of detachment or intimidation. This isn’t constructive criticism. Rather the opposite, in fact. Wallace weaved them together not subtly nor abruptly; the pace was just right, as one decision lead to the next and the next, et al. At times, it was almost too much, yet not enough. The lengths that Randall’s opposition went to were sometimes predictable, but simultaneously, the stakes couldn’t be higher and they had to do what they did. Anything else would be subpar.

At the other end of the spectrum, his journey led him to multiple locales around the world (Oak City, Wisconsin; Paris; Mulan; Amsterdam; London; Frankfurt, Germany; the Dutch Westerkerk; a Grecian monastery,) that you’d think there’d be more action and suspense, but sadly, there was not. This was a significant disappointment because I was anticipating much more. Instead, Wallace delivered beautiful scenery, rapid-fire intrigue, and terrific dialogue which helped develop the characters further, while elevating the plot. In retrospect, this shouldn’t work, but somehow it does, and that-in itself—is quite remarkable.

Equally bewildering was the ending itself. How is it possible to walk away from a nigh seven hundred page tome with feelings of gratitude, and being unable to imagine not ever reading this book, which many consider to be Irving Wallace’s best? Also, with feelings of elation and sadness and hope for humanity and with an underlying sense of doom; of disappointment? As before, all of these conflicting factors should not work, but they’re surprisingly effective and good.

I suspect that Angela summed it up best:

“This beginning was the end which justified any means…
“The means did not matter. The end was all.
“This she had said.”

 

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