The Book of Harold: The Illegitimate Son of God
by Owen Egerton
Reviewed by Tess Anderson
Owen Egerton’s latest, The Book of Harold: The Illegitimate Son of God, thoughtfully, humorously, and compassionately calls life’s meaning into question. Reading it, I was reminded to consider the possibilities that every homeless man might be Christ or at least Christ-like, that the guy in the next cubicle could be mentally ill, and also that Judas may have gotten a bad rap. Besides being thought-provoking, it also summons virtually the full spectrum of human emotion. Reading some pages, I found myself laughing out loud, while others made me want to cry.
Told from the point of view of Haroldian Blake Waterson, The Book of Harold: The Illegitimate Son of God relates the philosophy of Harold Peeks, introduced as Blake’s coworker and “Second Assistant Sales Analyst” at Promit Computers. Blake documents in vivid detail the travels the two pursue after Harold takes the opportunity of a company banquet to announce that he is, in fact, “Christ, the Son of God.”
Blake, a middle aged computer salesman, resists Harold at first, but then soon willingly participates in the unraveling of his own picture perfect life. It’s that same kind of life which many a suburbanite will confess is never as perfect as it seems. The dinner party scene is uncannily realistic, and brilliantly walks a fine line of satire without verging on ridiculousness. It’s clever examination of a lifestyle but without cruel judgment. Egerton finds a way to describe things we all seem to be thinking and feeling, yet most of us don’t say, sometimes not even to ourselves. Egerton is so adept at describing the stagnation of Blake’s life that I couldn’t help but feel suffocated by Blake’s analogy that his home is filled with sand. Rather than buy the cliché sports car, have liposuction, or start selling drugs like a cable TV series protagonist, Blake decides to follow Harold on a walk from a Houston suburb to Austin. Blake transforms from computer peddler to disciple, and the journey is as much inward as it is across Texas. As Blake moves forward from Figwood to Austin, he experiences a personal evolution.
The story that unfolds is an old one, but from this insider’s view, it’s one you probably won’t recognize until you are completely personally invested in it. The structure of the novel evokes Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, flashing back and forth between time frames, but without being confusing. Like life, the story simultaneously unfolds on the surface and on a much deeper level. When you read it -because you should -you’ll understand the mystery of it much better. While you’re pondering the symbolism, and wondering who Jesus would have been without Judas, you’re concurrently empathizing with Blake as he and his family try to cope with his Haroldism. You will come to feel for the other disciples, such as Irma and Beddy, and enjoy the little detours into each character’s story, as well as into Blake’s past. Blake’s witty inner monologue through even the disturbing scenes and heartbreaking moments gives the novel a dark humor reminiscent of a Wes Anderson flick. Mostly, Blake seems real. I felt like he was someone I knew, and strangely, also someone who knew me.