A Review of Club Revelation by Allan Appel, Coffee House Press, 2001. 335 pages. $14.95.
Gerry, Sam and Michael are secular New York Jews, baby boomers, and best friends. In fact, they live together in a brownstone on the Upper West Side with their respective Christian wives, Marylee, Ellen and Judy. Each couple has a separate apartment, and on the top floor they share what they call the "Museum," a communal shrine to the 1960s, complete with Jimi Hendrix posters, protest memorabilia, and the occasional joint. The nostalgic, protest-era bonds the couples share, along with a general disregard for religion, are powerful enough to keep any interfaith conflicts at bay until these characters are deep into middle age. In large part, interfaith conflicts do not arise because (improbably) none of the three couples have any children.
However, religious discord finally touches the household when a young Southern preacher named William Harp rents out the restaurant space at the bottom of their brownstone. He plans to open a restaurant called Club Revelation, with the express purpose of seducing the Upper West Side's Jews through their stomachs and then converting them to Christianity in a baptismal font located in the restaurant.
Marylee falls under the charismatic preacher's influence and begins dragging her Jewish husband Gerry to Bible study sessions. Sam and Michael are outraged that Marylee may be trying to convert Gerry to Christianity. Ellen and Judy (a practicing Buddhist) are sympathetic to Marylee's joy as she returns to her birth religion, but very concerned about the pressure this is putting on their own marriages as the latent cultural and religious conflicts bubble up to the surface.
If the plot sounds highly unlikely, that is because Club Revelation is intended as a comic satire, though one laced with a lot of earnest theological musings. This novel is readable, and does raise some interesting interfaith issues. However, the comedy often seems forced, or inappropriate to the fairly serious subject of interfaith marriage. And by creating three childless couples, the author avoids all of the issues relating to raising interfaith children.
As an interfaith child and parent, I ultimately found the crises of these provincial, self-absorbed New Yorkers to be of limited interest. And while the author is trying for comedy, his portrayal of interfaith marriage seems ironic and unnecessarily dark.