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Book Review by Steve Solomon


The Last Day

by Glenn Kleier

Warner Vision. © 1997, Glenn Kleier. 609 pages (paper).


BEWARE, INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH, THE MILLENNIUM IS UPON YOU! The Last Day dawns, and as the prophets of old fortell, that Day shall be . . .

Well . . . silly.

The Last Day will be pretty silly. At least, it will be if Glenn Kleier's apocalyptic scenario comes to pass.

Try as I may, "silly" is the best one-word description of Kleier's millennial novel that I can come up with. "Trendy" would be a close second. Despite a few interesting ideas and a plot that is occasionally suspenseful, and despite--or perhaps because of--the fact that it takes itself so seriously, The Last Day  is a silly, trendy apocalpyse for an irreligious, self-absorbed age. Whatever else it may be, though, the novel--Kleier's first--is a resounding success in two ways: commercially and critically. The commercial success is due at least in part to good timing. Kleier and his publishers had the saavy to get this book to press just as popular interest in the approaching Third Millennium was beginning to gather momentum, but before the market was inundated with millennial products. They were there first, and they reaped the rewards, which include a deal with TriStar for an upcoming TV miniseries. The critical success is much harder to explain. Despite an array of serious defects,The Last Day   has garnered scores of rave reviews.1 Trendiness in subject matter and attitude is the only explanation I can offer for the huge success of this hackneyed, pretentious, silly novel.

The Last Day  is divided not into traditional chapters or sections but rather into 118 relatively brief numbered segments. Perhaps "scenes" is the best term, because, in a clear nod to television shows such as "The X-Files" and (of course) the now-defunct series "Millennium," Kleier begins each with a place-date-time "screen subtitle." This approach quickly becomes tiresome. After all, there are 118  of these scenes, and many of them take place in a few key locations, so one ends up reading "Mount of the Ascension, Jerusalem, Israel" or "The Vatican, Rome, Italy" over and over. It is, however, only the most ubiquitous of many annoyances.

The novel follows the adventures of Jonathan Feldman, ace reporter for World Network News (WNN), and his wisecracking cameraman, a macho guy saddled with the unlikely name of Breck Hunter. Yes, Breck,  like the shampoo. Kleier strives mightily to make these characters relevant and to make them come alive: As the product of a Jewish-Catholic marriage, Feldman is supposed to embody the tensions and controversies surrounding the messianic tradition. He is also the honest seeker who wants to encounter God but is put off by organized religion. Hunter is the no-nonsense, cynical tough guy who is as quick with a quip or his fists as he is with his camera, a bad boy with a heart of gold. But for all Kleier's efforts to turn them into fully realized characters, these two remain bundles of popular clichés, right down to the obligatory male fear of romantic commitment (a topic to which we shall return presently).

Feldman and Hunter are not alone in their two-dimensionality. In fact, there is scarcely a character in the vast cavalcade of humanity populating The Last Day  who isn't a walking stereotype. As main characters, the two reporters actually fare rather well in comparison to many of the minor players, who are nothing but ciphers. Especially noteworthy in this regard are the members of the Martin family of Racine, Wisconsin, whose defining trait is stolidity and for whom Kleier wrote dialogue so wooden that reading it almost entails a risk of splinters. As a Nebraskan, I found the author's depiction of supposedly typical Midwesterners downright insulting. Then there is the matter of the Right Reverend Solomon T. Brady, D.D., a greedy and unscrupulous televangelist. Although I have no problem whatsoever with seeing corrupt, cynical TV preachers skewered, Brady is such a broad stereotype and such an obvious and easy target that working him over is like shooting fish in a barrel--where's the challenge?

Two of Kleier's Vatican characters deserve special mention: Antonio Cardinal di Concerci and his colleague, Alphonse Bongiorno Cardinal Litti. Yes, Bongiorno,  like the greeting. One of these two nearly attains believability; the other doesn't even come close. Unfortunately, it is the scheming, ambitious di Concerci, whose role in The Last Day  is to mislead Pope Nicholas VI with bad advice, who seems almost real. Litti, whose role consists of suffering for giving good advice and for doing the right thing, is righteous indignation and Job-like patience personified--but not a living, breathing person. Oh, well, I suppose it's always easier to create a convincing heavy than a convincing hero.

As bad as they are, Kleier's characterization and dialogue are not his worst problems. His prose is amateurish and inelegant, and its defects necessarily pervade the entire novel. Here are a few of the author's stylistic gems:  

This talk of Judgement Day set the agitated assembly on further edge. (p. 306)
Di Concerci narrowed his eyes at this surprising creature. (p. 308)
Feldman buried his face in his hands as the huge bascilica reverberated with soulful agitation. (p. 439)
Feldman's mind churned, failing to assimilate this puzzling information. (p. 465)
An uncomfortable Intelligence Commander David Lazzlo sat next to a solemn ex-Chief of Staff General Moshe Zerim. (p. 469)
The bewildered onlookers had drawn close in dumbfounded regard to witness this unprecedented exhibition. (p. 580)

Kleier's next editor could do him a great favor simply by forbidding him to use the word this.  

Then there is Kleier's "saidism"--he is apparently terrified of the word said  and will go to just about any lengths to avoid it. Perhaps some well-meaning writing coach once warned him of the evils of overusing said,  or perhaps someone presented him with a giant thesaurus shortly before he began writing The Last Day.  Whatever the explanation, Kleier's characters ask, answer, respond, shout, argue, interject, suggest, snap, question, retort, conjecture, complain, agree, reason, fume, correct,  and offer,  but they almost never say  anything. And all this just in the first 44 pages!

But let us turn to the plot, arguably The Last Day 's best feature: The story begins on Christmas Eve, 1999. The dynamic duo of Feldman and Hunter is assigned to WNN's "Millennium Eve" project, covering the convergence of various millennarian and apocalyptic sects on the Holy Land. Their work takes on greater significance when a high-tech Israeli installation in the Negev explodes, setting off a chain of events that culminates in nothing less than the appearance of an alleged new Messiah. This figure appears and disappears mysteriously and begins fulfilling a number of messianic prophecies, for some time staying one step ahead of the pursuing news crews. Early, badly blurred video footage seems to show a slender, bearded young man. Eventually, however, the wandering prophet and teacher is revealed to be not a man but a sapphire-eyed young woman of unearthly beauty who calls herself "Jeza." Armed with an arresting gaze and an array of Jesus-like abilities, Jeza is quickly hailed as God's new Anointed by some--and reviled as the very Antichrist by others. For while Jeza delights the poor and downtrodden (and those of progressive religious persuasion), she threatens religious authorities and hierarchies. Moreover, there is the question of her origin: Eventually, the ruined Negev installation is revealed as a secret laboratory dedicated to the development of cloned Israeli supersoldiers with experimental bio-computer chips imbedded in their brains. When Jeza's arrival on the world stage is traced back to the Negev shortly after the lab's fiery destruction, the suspicion arises that she may be an escapee from the conflagration and that her powers may be technological rather than supernatural.

To be fair, I have to admit that the plot of The Last Day  is occasionally entertaining and, especially at the end, even suspenseful. For all the novel's flaws, the reader can't help wondering how Kleier will resolve the "Jeza question." Unfortunately, even here he spoils the fun. The author has loaded his story with numerous elements that are unbelievable, offensive, or just plain silly, starting with the concept of the bio-computer chips that Jeza may or may not be carrying around in her brain. The chips are a good plot device and an intriguing idea in and of themselves, but Kleier makes their creator, Dr. Jozef Leveque, a genius in so many fields that the poor fellow seems more like a comic book "mad scientist" than a character in a novel with serious intellectual and philosophical pretensions. And the silliness doesn't end there. Quite the contrary--our author is just getting warmed up. 

Above I mentioned Feldman and Hunter's stereotypical male fear of commitment. Although this might seem to be purely a characterization problem, it crops up so often that it becomes a plot plot problem as well. We learn a lot  about the reporters' love lives: While Hunter is breaking one female co-worker's heart by having an affair with another, Feldman endangers his relationship with his beloved Anke by becoming infatuated with Jeza (of all people). Kleier expends so much ink on the romances of the WNN staffers that the topic becomes very tiresome. I found myself wondering repeatedly and with growing annoyance what this soap opera-like preoccupation with relationships had to do with the messianic/apocalyptic plot. (Ironically, Feldman himself has a similar reaction when he must listen to a drunken Hunter ramble on about their beautiful but troubled colleague, Erin: "Feldman screwed up his face, not certain he wanted to hear this" [p. 244]. A rare moment of insight on the author's part!) It isn't until the novel is nearly over that Kleier finally makes his rather silly point: Feldman has been confusing his soul's desire for divine love with his heart's desire for romantic love (p. 594). Oh, so that's what's been going on for nearly 600 pages! What this insight has to do with Hunter's skirt-chasing, I don't know, but his relationship problems are likewise resolved by the novel's end.

In constructing his messianic scenario, Kleier exhibits a baffling combination of knowledge and ignorance. On the one hand, he seems to know quite a lot: He is obviously familiar with the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life and cleverly builds parallel events into the life of Jeza. Even her possible status as a clone can be construed as a sort of technological "virgin birth." Kleier also knows his way around the apocalyptic prophecies of both the Old and New Testaments and has Jeza fulfill many of those associated with the Messiah's return, just as Jesus fulfilled prophecies of the Messiah's first advent. Moreover, Kleier seems familiar with messianic beliefs in modern Judaism as well as the Catholic tradition of purported "special revelations." (I say "seems," because as a Protestant Christian, I am not sufficiently familiar with either to judge the accuracy of Kleier's depictions.) Finally, Kleier depicts the Vatican and its ritual pomp convincingly enough, at least for a reader who admittedly has experienced them only in television broadcasts.

On the other hand, the things that Kleier gets more or less right make the things he gets wrong all the more glaring and his ignorance that more perplexing. Why, for example, this treatment of the name of the purported new Messiah?
 

"I have a name. The name God has chosen for me is Jeza. My name is Jeza." She turned and was gone again.
    There was no universal agreement on the correct spelling of her name, as she didn't bother to clarify it. Hereafter it was often spelled "Jeeza," "Jeze," "Jesa" or "Gisa." But there was no disagreement on the pronunciation. It was "JEE-zuh." (p. 150)


My, my, God certainly has become media-savvy in the last 2,000 years. He gave His first Messiah a Hebrew name, yehosu'a  (or yesu'a ), even though the Jews were a conquered people and their language was thus not a "power language" in the mighty Roman Empire. It was not until the Messiah's followers began to spread the new faith throughout the Empire that their Master's name became known in the lingua franca of the time, Koine Greek, as Iesous,  from which the English form, Jesus,  ultimately derives.2 But in the meantime, God has obviously grasped the advantages of a name in English, the current lingua franca and power language of worldwide electronic communication. So although she is an Israeli Jew and logically ought to have a Hebrew name, God cleverly gave His new Messiah a name based on the English Jesus  instead of on the Hebrew yesu'a.  Presto! A media-ready Redeemer. Good idea, o Lord!

As if that weren't silly enough, there is the idea that everyone all over the world would pronounce Jeza's name the same way. Nice try, Mr. Kleier, but this just isn't the way people deal with names in foreign languages. Even if we grant that the worldwide media coverage of Jeza would mean that billions of people heard her pronounce her name, that doesn't mean that everyone could pronounce it as she does. For example, Germans say "YAY-zus" instead of "JEE-zus," because their language doesn't have the "dj" sound--hence, they can't pronounce that sound without special instruction and practice. Spanish-speakers say "hay-ZOOS" for similar reasons. And even if we can pronounce an exotic name, we often prefer not to. We would rather "domesticate" it by changing the spelling, the pronunciation, or both to match the norms of our own native language. For instance, most of us English speakers could probably pronounce the Spanish name Cristobal Colombo  if we wanted to, but we don't. Even though the name isn't very hard to say, it looks and sounds "funny" to us, so we change it to something more familiar: Cristopher Colombus.   So why "Jeza," universally pronounced "JEE-zuh"? In all likelihood, the name would be both pronounced and spelled in a number of different ways around the world. I suppose Kleier could be intentionally "bending the rules" to underscore Jeza's special status, but I suspect the real explanation for Jeza's silly, improbable name and its silly, improbable pronunciation is just linguistic ignorance on Kleier's part. 

Similar silliness characterizes Kleier's treatment of the Bible. At one point, di Concerci shows Litti " 'an original Latin manuscript of the Gospel of Saint John' " (p. 223). Later on, Jeza accuses the Vatican of hiding and supressing countless manuscripts, among them, " 'recorded in Hebrew, the original Gospels of Matthew and the lost Apocrypha of Thomas' " (p. 370). These statements raise a number of questions: Why "Gospels  of Matthew"? Is or was there more than one? And what is "the lost Apocrypha of Thomas" supposed to be? Does Kleier mean the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas ? If so, it's not lost--English translations of it can be found in paperback anthologies readily available in most any bookstore. And why gospels written in Hebrew? The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but the early Christian texts, both canonical and apocryphal, were written mainly in Koine Greek, because of its widespread use in much of the territory that Rome took from the successors of Alexander the Great. In the fictional world of his novel, Kleier seems to be suggesting that the New Testament documents were actually written in Hebrew (the liturgical language of Judaism) and that these original texts were then replaced by doctored versions in Latin (the liturgical language of Roman Catholicism). Granted, The Last Day  is a work of fiction, so Kleier may be altering historical facts for effect. But I'm not sure what the effect is supposed to be, and once again, I can't shake the suspicion that plain old ignorance is at work here: Does Kleier even know that the early Church used Greek? 

Normally in writing reviews of fiction I try to avoid giving away any major plot twists, but in the case of The Last Day  I have to make one exception: The author allows Pope Nicholas, who seems to be a basically good but fearful pontiff, to "forget" or subconsciously supress his knowledge of when the Third Millennium truly begins. Because his secret book of prophecy makes the timing of the arrival of the purported new Messiah (before or after the beginning of the new millennium) the litmus test of her authenticity, Nicholas's "forgetfulness" leads him to make the wrong decision about her. This turn of events is so unbelievable as to be silly. How could any pope not know when the millennium begins? After all, it was a 6th-century monk who proposed a calendar based on the life of Christ rather than one based on the reign of a Roman emperor, a pope who ratified it, and another pope who modified it slightly to give us our current calendar. Without this Christ-oriented calendar, there wouldn't be any millennium. Moreover, I would hope that any pontiff would also know that the monk's calculations were slightly off and that the Third Millennium actually began quite uneventfully a few years ago. To base something as momentous as the authenticity of a purported Messiah on the difference between the years 2000 and 2001 is just silly, as is assuming that a pope wouldn't know these things. I can only assume that Kleier is either ignorant of these facts or chose to ignore them for the sake of his story.

While we are on the topic of the pope, I must also point out that the author depicts the Vatican's interaction with Jeza in a way that seems not just silly but downright stupid. Essentially, the Roman Catholic Church tries to overawe Jeza and blunt her criticisms by displaying its full pomp and pagentry. Given that Jeza has consistently preached in support of the poor, this strategy does not seem likely to succeed. Perhaps we can blame Nicholas's stupidity on his fear, but di Concerci, whom Kleier consistenly depicts as a sort of criminal mastermind in ecclesiastical garb, certainly ought to have known better.

Roman Catholics will find very little to like in The Last Day.  While a few individual Catholics (mainly Litti) are pious Christians and decent human beings, the Catholic Church as an organization takes a real drubbing. Kleier depicts a Rome guilty of hoarding great wealth while millions of people starve and stooping to executions and the suppression of inconvenient religious truths to maintain its authority. On the other hand, the novel will offend Protestants and Orthodox Christians by granting the Vatican precisely the sort of leadership role it constantly arrogates to itself--Kleier allows Pope Nicholas and his closest advisor, di Concerci, to represent all Christians in dealing with Jeza. Jews who read The Last Day  may well be offended to note that some Jewish characters are depicted as acclaiming Jeza, a figure heavily influenced by the Christian tradition, as God's true Messiah. Kleier truly is an equal-opportunity offender! 

Finally, there is Jeza's messianic program: As I mentioned early on, it is trendy, by which I mean that it slams organized religion and espouses a number of politically correct stances on current issues. Her take on theology is a major plank in her "platform" and is easy to summarize: Theology is bad.
 

    "In this manner shall you spread God's Word," [Jeza] replied: "To all you meet, give the writings of the Koran, the Talmud, the Veda, the Avesta, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible--all the great spiritual texts of the world. God's message is in all of them. But do not interpret God's Word for others, for that is how the corruption begins." (P. 307)

Wait a minute. Aren't the Talmuds (there are two ) themselves interpretations? Doesn't Jeza know that Jews resent having their scriptures called the "Old  Testament"? And just what is "God's message" that is supposedly in all these texts? Since people of goodwill often can't agree on the central message of any one of these religious traditions, how are we supposed to agree on their common message--especially if we are forbidden to discuss or interpret them? All such discussion or interpretation constitutes (as Feldman later puts it) "prying at God with the crowbars of theology" (p. 602), and should be replaced by discussion of the mind of God as revealed in nature, science, and mathematics (pp. 307-08). Oh, yeah, that will work.

So there you have it. Read The Last Day  if you must, but beware! Using stereotypical characters, stilted dialogue, clumsy prose, and sheer ignorance, Kleier has mixed up a veritable Plague of Silliness, and it will be poured out on all who peruse this portentious tome!


1For a taste of this critical acclaim, visit the Writers Write Website and read Claire E. White's interview with Kleier. Then there's also the Last Day  Website, which might just be better than the novel itself. 

2For detailed information, see the entry "Jesus" in the second edition ofThe Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible,  p. 467.



Edited February 12, 2000. Revised November 13, 2000.

Copyright ©2000 by Steven R. Solomon. All rights reserved.
Please send comments to srsgm@pacbell.net.



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