Before I start discussing Chris Sauter's The Flock, I must use a warning I've only ever had to do one other time on here. I know the author. Take this review with that in mind.
At it's most basic, the plot of this one can be summed up as "Gay boy in his senior year of High School falls in lust with nonreciprocating straight boy and starts a cult just to seduce him." Because essentially, that's what much of the first half concerns. Our narrator, Cole, now 17 years on from leaving the cult, is married to Remy (technically, with the timeline, they got married in CA before the Prop 8 business, so it wasn't recognized where they were), and losing his hearing due to cholesteatoma. As we start, Cole receives a nasty story about a guy with the same condition who eventually becomes invisible to the world at large.
Then other "gifts" arrive. Like a jacket left behind at an abandoned apartment that burned down with the jacket in it. This gets Cole to start blogging about both the gifts and his history which keeps coming up from the stuff he's receiving. We learn of the first boy he ever loved, who died, who later contacted Cole via Ouija board during what sounds a bit like a date rape scenario if not something more nefarious.
Anyway, Cole meets a guy in art class, falls in lust, that basically uses fake trance possession to increase Joe's interest in him. Which works, probably better than Cole expected, particularly when people start hanging out with cole just to get some of his channeled information from such characters as Jaques, the 18th Century French drunk or Erina, the succubus.
Then he starts channeling Beelzebub, or BB for short. BB helps set up the theology that gets The Flock rolling, and sets down the "rules" of the new religion, most of which are designed to further entrap Joe. Let's see if I can sum up the theology a bit here to give you an idea. God the creator created the world then went to sleep, waiting for his creation to catch up and join him. Beelzebub was the true antagonist, his fame usurped by Lucifer Morningstar. Beelzebub is the limit on the human soul, and true ascension is accomplished by not having limits. Cole is the Prophet, one of the few who can speak for the Creator. Joe is his chosen. Acts of heterosexuality create bodies, acts of homosexuality create souls. The Messiah will be born of two fathers and one mother, aka, Cole and Joe will father the soul, and eventually one of them will father the child.
See how well that one's going to play out?
Cole eventually fakes a few prophecies (more so than usual) as pat of an end game so he can go to college. Mind you, by this point, the core group of The Flock has more or less started living communally and finding ways around the law.
Of course, the fake prophecies come true, even though those fulfilling them and Cole all know it was faked.
This all goes really south about the halfway point, when (not a spoiler, since Cole pretty much tells you from the beginning) Joe hangs himself after a rather ugly lovers spat.
At the halfway point, Mr,. Sauter does something that would make Nick Mamatas proud. (Long story short, I once submitted a story to Mr. Mamatas. His advice was put the twist in the middle instead of the end.) And we get a really large twist at the separation of Parts 1 and 2, wherein The Prophet winds up returning to the cult he founded 17 years prior. And meets the Messiah.
We'll leave the synopsis there, since most of the rest of the book is a gradual unspooling of what's been going on behind the scenes for the past 17 years, followed by another twist toward the very end.
So, boys and girls, let's instead discuss the themes like good English students.
It seems most folks realize Cole's faking the possessions and the prophecies, but believe in him anyway. How are we doing this in our own lives?
Fate verses Free Will plays a part in this, since some of the groundwork suggests a longer play going on in the background that Cole more or less becomes a figurehead in. Where is the balance?
The narrator is the very definition of unreliable. How much of the narrative, including the seemingly coerced parts in the second half would you believe to be true if reading it as non-fiction?
The narrator's memories of events rarely syncs with other people's recollections of events. Compare this with Dali's "The Persistence of Memory".
Cole's narration is reminiscent of an addict recounting the bad things done while high. Which is to say bragging while begging foregiveness. How do you avoid such things?
By far, the only quibble I have with the entire book is that the timeline of when things go off the deep end seems a bit rushed. I mean, in the book, it plays out a natural pace, but honestly, looking at the time stamps, things go from "Hey, let's go live on a commune!" to "Hey, let's start killing people!" in the course of about 2 weeks to a month.
Also, I was under the impression that this was supposed to be fairly light. It's not. It's pretty much a psychological thriller, with an opening third that evoked a very visceral reaction from me.
I enjoyed reading this one. I'd recommend it to a few friends, but go in knowing forewarned that parts of it are very graphic in nature, and may cause some serious self examination.
(Another rarity on here: if you wish to get a copy, here's the Amazon listing .)