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January2000
The Last Day
by Glenn Kleier

Bill:

This is bookclub@ket. Our January 2000 selection is The Last Day—a first novel by Louisville author Glenn Kleier. Described as a millennial thriller, the novel unfolds at the end of 1999 when a giant meteor crashes into a desert laboratory. In this mystical tale we are introduced to a young woman named Jeza claiming to be the new Messiah. Along with Jeza we meet a handsome network correspondent, a mad scientist, and a conniving cardinal of the Catholic Church. bookclub@ket starts now.

Rochelle:
The two things that stuck with me. The first was that all of these things that I felt about the Catholic Church -- it made it easier to believe that they were true. Now whether this stuff in the book about the Catholics is true or not, you go I knew it. And the second thing was that it really is okay to talk about religious themes in contemporary terms and with contemporary flavor. It was a thriller, but it was about religion and people don't do that enough; they sort of seem to fear it. So I was glad to see somebody try to do that.

Bill:
Did it sort of help you that it was the end of the year the end of the millennium with documentaries on television, other books, and articles--fact and fiction?

Rochelle:
It made it scary to read at night.

Bill:
that sort of contributed to your reading.

Rochelle:
I read it at night and you know Hmmm.

Bill:
That it could actually happen to you.

Rochelle:
I don't know. I mean I was raised in the AME church so we fully expect fire and brimstone and the rapture and a lot of the stuff that's in Revelations, and I personally don't talk to people a lot about that. But it is very interesting. Everybody asks that question, "well if Jesus showed up would you really know." When the Second Coming happens, will newspapers actually cover it. Will people actually recognize him. Who knows. So yes it's possible.

Bill:
Or recognize her.

Rochelle:
Or recognize her, as in this book.

Bill:
Yeah that is kind of an interesting aspect of it -- that she's a woman.

Dava:
It was strange to see all these parallels between Jeza who is the second Messiah that is in this book and then Jesus and then to think that with Jeza coming everything was televised. Every move she made was spread out to everyone all at once and it was just such an odd spin on it. It blossomed with authenticity I think--if you know what I'm saying--it's just like it just seemed like a big media...

Wilma:
Isn't that the only kind of thing that we think is real. Whatever we see on TV or we have documented for us.

Dava:
No.

Everyone:
(laughs)

Jonathan:
Well I think it was very clever of Glen Kleier --

Wilma:
uh.

Jonathan:
-- to suggest that if Jesus returned to Earth, it would be a media circus. I think it's very smart of him to realize that nothing of world shattering importance happens without being covered by CNN, without being covered by the media, without media corporations fighting over coverage. I think it was very interesting the way he described the sort of race to get coverage and so on you know it's big bucks.

I mean I think it was very smart of him to show that the big bucks to cover that sort of thing.

Rochelle:
And they had big sponsors too.

Wilma:
Yes.

Jonathan:
And I think that was a good part of the novel but if I could just take a different take on what you others have been saying. I think I would love to read a really good novel about the Second Coming. It's such an enormous topic in our lives. You grow up to go to Sunday school and you hear about the second coming you know that that's a feature of Christianity and so it would be really wonderful to read a great novel on that subject.

Dava:
You didn't think this was one?

Jonathan:
But I don't think we have it here. I think what we have here is a cheap sensational poorly written blockbuster for the mass market. Which is written in very short chapters in order to get a speedy Hollywood pick up.

Wilma:
Tell us how you really feel Jonathan.

Everyone: (laughs)

Jonathan:
Just sort of going for the quick fix. Going for the quick fix, going to plot he tells you what happens. He doesn't really tell you how people feel, how people think, but there is very little inner life and characters. The dialog is wooden and cliched. I don't think it was a successful novel. But I salute his ambition because it's an extremely ambitious topic, trying to depict in a novel Jesus Christ or his reincarnation, trying to depict world events in reaction to the second coming. What an enormous topic! Highly ambitious, but I think it was too much for him to do.

Rochelle:
You didn't connect at all with this reporter, Jon Feldman who went through this whole

Dava:
No.

Wilma:
I didn't either. I thought character --

Rochelle:
Nobody liked this guy.

Wilma:
Well it's not that I didn't like him.

Bill:
(laughs)

Wilma:
It's just that all the characters here are somewhat stereotyped; they are not developed. The weakest thing is his character development. The story is very interesting -- the research he did, the details he put in, as far as the Second Coming and paralleling that to the life of Jesus. But the character development was the weakest thing, and if I might go on with that. His entire one big point here is that the new Messiah is a woman and the other women in the book and the Messiah herself are just stereotypical women. They are too beautiful, too help your man no matter what he does and especially Erin Cross who comes across as the ultimate siren. In fact, you know this is this big fantasy. She presents herself to Jon as his ultimate fantasy as Jeza, and I just felt that was very ironic that we have a female Messiah and that the female characters here are so stereotyped -- as are the males truly.

Bill:
Well you can carry that out too. Yes to the males the handsome rugged...

Wilma:
Yes.

Bill:
-- television correspondent, the theologians who are all somewhat obese bespeckled and pontificating from on high. The women were all beautiful including Jeza if we can read enough into the description. I do think though you have to give him an "A" for effort as far as the plot and I would think the research too.

Wilma:
Oh it was excellent.

Bill:
But I do agree about the character development. The research I thought was fascinating to get inside the Vatican and all that went on down in the catacombs, and I think that middle section of the book quite frankly was the most interesting to me.

Rochelle:
I am so surprised that we are taking this so seriously. I mean it is so different from everything that we read last year and I'm so glad that we are celebrating an anniversary. It's like the first book that we read that is supposed to be sort of contemporary.

I mean I am a journalist, and I read some of these people and they are exactly on target. So I didn't expect the type of characterization that we found in some of the books we read before that were true words of literature. I didn't see this as a work of literature. I saw this as a great piece of fiction with some pseudo-historical background and that's what saved it for me. It could have used some editing like a hundred pages less to keep the plot going but I didn't expect much more from some of the characters and the one's that were minor I dismissed, but I'm just so surprised that you guys didn't...

Bill:
Do you like the way he began the novel with the discovery in the desert and all of that? I mean do you think that was a good place to start and the development of Jeza and from that point we sort of see her come to fruition and popularity and all of that.

Wilma:
I think there were other ways to do it, but I think that for his purposes he had to start there because that's where she started.

Jonathan:
I was a little surprised at how people all over the world when they saw news coverage of Jeza people all over the world went into a panic and thought that this is the new Messiah and this is the end of the world. And I thought why did they do that? They just saw somebody on TV who claims to be the new Messiah. I mean our mental institutions are full of people who think they are the Messiah. Thinking you're a Messiah is not new in human history. People who are schizophrenic think that sometimes and I don't see why everybody just immediately thought that this was the Messiah.

Now I admit it was a very dramatic scene at the beginning, which was filmed. Remember the videotape? There was an earthquake and it says here if I can just read it to you just to remind you.

"They claimed the ground opened up as you can see here Hunter explained, from the well clear to the base of the temple, up the steps splitting them all the way to the top right between the feet of the boy. I thought you know how appropriate that the earth quake should just stop between the feet of the boy." I mean it's like some cheap Hollywood gimmick. And I don't want my Second Coming to be like that.

Bill:
(laughs)

Jonathan:
Like a cheap Hollywood movie or a made for TV movies gimmick you know.

Bill:
But as Rochelle said, we are in that day and age. Though how other than television via satellite and the internet and cell phones could this story have been told?

Jonathan:
Yes, but this is a novel. The novelist can use his imagination to do it any way he wants. I'm not complaining that the media coverage of the Second Coming because I think that that's quite appropriate in the book. But I just don't think that the novelist did a very good job in terms of writing a novel.

Rochelle:
Well let me answer your question because even with a novel you wanted to know why people would do that. We are at the end of what some people want to believe is the second 1,000 years. 90% of the world believes in some deity greater than they are. Here is somebody who does some things that appear to be miraculous. They are covered by television which means people believe it. Unfortunately, it is so simple to make that leap for people of faith. For people who have been looking for that. For people who are expecting it. I thought that was one of the things that he did that was okay.

Bill:
I do too and that again is part of the plot in the story. I think that part is not only interesting but fairly believable in this day and time. Now it may have been written off and if it did actually occur it might be written off as a cheap Hollywood take off with spots by Nike I think was mentioned and Coca Cola and others, but again he sort of used WNN which is the CNN of today.

Dava:
Yeah.

Bill:
As the oracle to tell all of this and Feldman who better than to take this star of television now when news and entertainment is so vague and there is such a cross over there.

Rochelle:
There was a fair amount of incredulity as well with some of the churches that didn't want to lose some of the people who believe in their faith. Like wait a minute, if they go over to this Jeza woman who comes out of the desert and she may or may not be a scientific experiment and if she is, it is still possible that God has touched her. There were lots of people asking the right kinds of questions and the people who had the most to lose from sort of a parochial point of view was the Catholic church. And to watch some of the inner workings of the minds of these people, you know, even if it's total fiction it is very interesting fiction. It's just like with 2001 A Space Odyssey no one will know whether some computer will take over a space ship, but if you make it seem real, then you know that could happen. Not necessarily the Second Coming in that way and God sending back a daughter instead of a son. But the rest of it wasn't so implausible for me that it lost me. I read the whole book.

Wilma:
I thought one thing that he did do well and is a huge undertaking was putting words into the mouth of Jeza and having you know parables. There were instructions on how to live your live and so on and that is almost an overwhelming task. If I were an author, I would very much hesitate putting words into the mouth of a Messiah.

Bill:
Oh really.

Wilma:
And yet I think it works out fairly well.

Dava:
You would be scared to do it.

Wilma:
Oh yes.

Everyone:(laughs)

Wilma:
Because I'd think well I'm not smart enough to know what God would say to the people on Earth, but I thought some of the parables and some of the other sayings...

Jonathan:
They were quite good actually.

Wilma:
I thought they were, too.

Bill:
believable to a point...

Jonathan:
They were in the spirit of the parables in the New Testament.

Wilma:
And I loved that one.

Jonathan:
They were modernized and.

Wilma:
I love the one about the inventor's son. There were two inventors who each had a son. You know it's italicized like it is when Jesus speaks.

Dava:
In the Bible.

Wilma:
Each inventor created a great complex machine that performed its task well. In time the sons grew to manhood and the inventors retired and turned their machines over to their sons saying go now use your machine properly. So they used them but later they broke and one son went to his father and said it's broken. My customers are angry. You must fix it and so the father took up his tools and fixed it. The second son went to seek his father's help, but his father refused saying you are a man now this is your responsibility. So he went back, the son did, and labored on his machine alone losing much business but with time restoring it to use. Well when these two fathers died you have got one son who knows how to fix his machine and the other one who goes broke. And I thought oh, that makes sense. That's just like the parables as you said.

Jonathan:
Parable of the talents or something.

Wilma:
Yeah. I read that and I went okay.

Dava:
There is still such a difference in the undertones between her teaching and those of Jesus. One of the things I liked about this book is you can read her parables and I go to church you know I believe in the Christian faith and so I would think how is this different from what Jesus taught and how would this affects those who believe. What I found so interesting is her emphasis on self-reliance and independence. She actually thought you could evolve into a form of God yourself, if you saw the new light, if you strove to be like you know your maker. And I think that is so different from what Jesus taught which was humility and just being a weak child and so that's what made it interesting for me because there was such a difference.

Bill:
That was the interesting part of it I think. And again that's that whole process -- he used WNN or CNN as sort of an oracle. The parables were also used as a tool to tell the tale. And I think, of course, one of the reasons that Kleier wrote that Jeza came back was to preach or speak against organized religion.

Everyone:
Yeah, Umm.

Bill:
That it had gone astray, of course, she chastised.

Rochelle: And that's true.

Bill:
Well a lot of people believe that and chastise the Catholic church for all of their material possessions and great wealth they had amassed that was hidden down into the catacombs and those characters from Pope Nicholas down to di Conceri.

Woman: (laughs)

Bill:
to Cardinal Leti all of the Italians that were involved in that. I thought he did a good job of really describing that whole process and the way that one would plot against the other. I really do give him an "A" for effort there.

Wilma:
What about his depiction of the Pope? He seemed rather manipulated and it's hard for me to believe that someone who could become Pope could be manipulated or put off so easily or let his underlings make decisions for him. Did that bother you?

Bill:
Well.

Wilma:
Or anybody.

Bill:
It didn't bother me.

Rochelle:
I loved that.

Bill:
Because of what we are seeing with our present day Pope who is elderly, ill, I think suffering from some form of Parkinson's, has trouble with his speech on occasion, has to rest a lot, and really has to be guided somewhat by the of Cardinals that he surrounds himself with. So even in this and I think Rochelle what you mentioned at first whether it's fiction and you are trying to sort of push too much fact in it. I think I was sort of influenced by everything going on -- the end of what a lot of people think is the millennium. I think this was written in 1996 and 97 although it takes place in December of 1999 and goes up through Easter of 2000 which we will get to in a few months so all of that really helped me want to believe it a lot more. I just think it goes back to maybe the character development and the way he sort of rushed through some passages that left me a little cool.

Rochelle:
Well, I think that Jonathan made a good point and he just feels more strongly about it than I do. It's not a totally well written book, but I think there are passages as I was reading this my daughter was sort of watching me because she said now you have to finish this book in time so if I would stop to do something else she would go, go read. She said what chapter are you on 112 next page what chapter are you on 113 it was just these vignettes leading up to a moment and I think when authors usually do that it's to be fast paced to get you. You know Mary Higgins Clarke does it really well where this is happening with this it was like some of these are in the way and I would like try to read through really quickly to get back to the point of the book. And some of these sort of got in the way of some really good sort of documentary type writing about the Pope in his private quarters reading the letters from...

Bill:
One of the other Cardinals.

Wilma:
No, remember from the girl Christina.

Bill:
Oh yes yes.

Rochelle:
Reading those letters and trying to understand and make a decision and how as you were talking about with the manipulation that's true of every leader. I mean people don't like to think about it, but Ronald Reagan was the figurehead who had lots of people guiding him, advising him, and saying you need to do this. The Pope is the same way. It was very brave I thought to sort of deal with that in a way that's really human and those were the only characters that were truly defined. I felt a little something for the Pope and got to see him as a man as he wrestled with whether to say that this woman was the anti-Christ and not the Messiah. Because of when she happened to show up and I thought that part was pretty good.

Wilma:
Well, now that you mention it, the President was manipulated too.

Rochelle:
Yes.

Wilma:
When she went to meet the President all of his advisors want to set all that up.

Rochelle:
Photo op for the campaign.

Wilma:
Yeah exactly, Yeah they wanted it right for the campaign and they were worried about it too when it didn't work as well as it did. So you are right -- religion is about manipulation and what he did was sort of tap into that.

Bill:
And so is politics.

Woman: Yeah.

Bill:
What about the love interests between Anke and Feldman the correspondent. But what about Feldman and Jeza?

Wilma:
That bothered me a bit. Simply because she was described too much in physical terms, and it bothered me. He didn't want to learn from her; he wanted to kiss her.

Bill:
(laughs)

Wilma:
That passage where he comes close to kissing her made me nervous because I wanted her to be something more than that and, of course, he does finally decide that he loved her with his soul and he loves Anke with his heart. And that was fine except that I don't know why that passage. I guess I am religious enough that the passage you know if the Messiah does come I want her taken not as a physical...

Bill:
You don't want to kiss.

Wilma:
...woman. Yeah I didn't want our main man to kiss the Messiah. (laughs)

Dava:
That is very real because he was not a spiritual man, and he did not know what it was to love somebody spiritually with his soul. He didn't even know it existed really. And so this was a completely new experience with him. He didn't know what he felt toward Jeza; it just confused him greatly. I can understand.

Jonathan:
I felt that the beauty of Jeza was really not very well described. I mean I think that he would say things she was very beautiful and she was very radiant and when she looked at you she saw through you. And that was it. That is the description you get of Jeza and there was no real effort. Well it described her hair; her hair was soft.

Everyone:
(laughs)

Bill:
But you are talking about her physical beauty.

Jonathan:
Yeah, but I...

Bill:
Her spiritual beauty.

Jonathan:
Descriptive powers of this novelist are very limited. And I think he writes to a formula when he is describing characters. He's got three things he describes: you know maybe the hair length, the face in the briefest of terms, and the clothes and it's a kind of formula. Every time he introduces a character that's what you get. And with Jeza I mean if this really is the daughter of God or if this is God, I think that really he should have taken more effort to explain exactly what people felt when they felt overwhelmed by her, by her looks. After all, he has got 600 pages in which to do it. I don't I think it was very well done.

Dava:
I think he needed more of that and I also think he needed more narration of things she said and things she taught and more of her acts. I don't think there was enough of that.

Jonathan:
You mean miracles?

Dava:
Not enough miracles, not enough following of Jeza herself. Like you know it says she went to the desert to be with the Bedouins, but you never...

Bill:
He didn't follow her enough. Didn't you think it was also a little odd that one of the so-called miracles had to do with the lottery?

Everyone:
(laughs)

Bill:
I could think of a few other things to spend my time on.

Rochelle:
December of 1999, all of this was so 1999. But I think that triangle that supposed love triangle is the greatest evidence of Jonathan's point about a lack of character development.

Bill:
She's coming around Jonathan.

Rochelle:
Oh no no. Let me tell you. Now

Bill:
I'm just.

Rochelle:
The characters I liked were Jon Feldman because he tried the hardest with him to give him some flesh on the bones and the Pope who I thought was really good. But the people you knew the least were Anke, this real woman, you know, an Earthly woman who he was supposedly in love with; and Jeza who is like the whole focal point of the book when she first comes out, and it's like the first sort of sermon on the mount where everybody is meeting her for the first time and not knowing that she is a girl. He called her face arresting and said the skin was so completely smooth, unblemished and literally vibrant in its pure radiant whiteness perfect in a symmetry with large wideset dark eyes rimmed with long black lashes. The jaw line was chiseled, firm the nose prominent, Roman Godly entirely appropriate.

Bill:
Sounds like an Este Lauder commercial.

Everyone:
(laughs)

Rochelle:
It's literally from a magazine. So you go okay so what is she really like. You know it's almost like the guys are huddled like okay so what's the deal. And then when she's revealed to be a woman there is no real surprise. That's the whole point of this book that the second coming -- here it's this female.

Bill:
But don't you think as an author, as a writer, describing the Messiah would be a pretty difficult task?

Jonathan:
Very hard yeah.

Rochelle:
Yeah. But if you are going to do a book about the last day, you gotta do it.

Everyone:
(laughs)

Rochelle:
You gotta do it.

Wilma:
I wasn't so concerned about not having enough about what Jeza had done because we really don't have that much about Jesus either. You know the gospels tell the same stories over and over again and the account is not a daily following around of what he did. So I think that didn't bother me so much because I don't think we have a great deal about the life of Jesus either. We have to fill in and we know even less about what he looked like. But so that part I thought was okay.

Dava:
Well we know he doesn't look like the way he is described so what is in a description any way.

Bill:
hmmm.

Dava:
Middle Eastern man in every picture in the world.

Bill:
So in this we had the Second Coming in the beginning. We had her acts of good deeds and the conflict that she went through with organized religion especially the Catholic Church. Then toward the end when we got into the warring factions with the Israeli defense league and that sort of thing. How do you think the conclusion went for you?

Rochelle:
Well that's when the book sort of broke down a little bit.

Bill:
It did, didn't it?

Wilma:
It was getting really long. He couldn't get into the whole battle between good and evil. He had to make it quick to get out of it and that's when it was like a script for a TV movie. It's like okay we are now at an hour and 45 minutes; get out of it. The whole idea of her giving a final sermon and then standing up and holding her arms out okay that symbolizes the crucifixion. Now what? And then for the scene of resurrection where she is lying on an autopsy table.

Bill:
That was a little high tech too.

Rochelle:
A flash of light and then she is gone. I don't know; I really expected something simpler and beautiful. If you start with out in the desert here's this thing that's born that could be a deity and then at the end it's like okay Jon Feldman is thrown out of a helicopter and all of a sudden.

Wilma:
And survives.

Rochelle:
And survives because he sees this.

Jonathan:
Only James Bond can do that.

Everyone:
(laughs)

Rochelle:
That's right. So you know it's like too much happening.

Bill:
Again it's a little bit too much Hollywood.

Rochelle:
Yeah.

Jonathan:
The idea of the whole thing should be in the Holy Land. I mean you might have written a novel about the Second Coming set in Berlin.

Women: hmmm

Jonathan:
Or Dallas

Rochelle:
Or Louisville

Jonathan:
Or Rio de Janeiro or Lexington, I mean.

Bill:
hmmm.

Jonathan:
In a sense there is no reason why it has to be in the Holy Land although I think it does add for the Hollywood effect.

Rochelle:
Well it helps with those...

Jonathan:
It is the second greatest story ever told.

Rochelle:
It helps with those mid-east factions at the end. You can't necessarily have the Hatfields and McCoys fighting over whether the Messiah has come. So we really needed that war that had already started.

Dava:
Well, it's that Jeza tried so much to parallel Jesus that took away from her how much I believed in her as a character because who's to say she would have to be just like Jesus to be the Messiah. It would seem to me that any old person who is crazy could say well I'll read about Jesus just do what he did, but if someone was going to be original, I think they would be more believable.

Wilma:
There is also a foreshadowing because some of the things that she says it says at the end this became this speech - became the part of ...

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