Picks and Pans Review: Only Begotten Daughter

updated 04/02/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/02/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by James Morrow

As presented in Morrow's mordant fantasy novel, the Second Coming occurs a little twisted. There's been another Virgin Birth, but this time, in 1974, it's to a Jewish man who works in one of those shoe-box photo-development booths and lives alone in a New Jersey lighthouse. His contribution to an Atlantic City sperm bank miraculously comes to term without an ovum. And this time, the Messiah is a woman, the half-sister of Jesus.

Heretical? Yes. Exuberantly so. The dark satirical tone of Only Begotten Daughter makes for a potent novel, not unlike John Kessel's overlooked 1989 sci-fi novel, Good News from Outer Space.

Morrow plants a number of scriptural echoes here, including a temptation by the Devil (who, by the way, is a vegetarian) and a "My time has not yet come" dilemma. Julie Katz, God-made-woman, has a good deal of difficulty finding her path in the modern world and for a time assumes her ministry to be an advice column in a tabloid. Once her divine nature is revealed, there's nothing but trouble.

Morrow, who won a Nebula Award in 1988 for his short story "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge," begins with a strong concept and knows where he wants to take it. En route, the prose gets a little giddy at times, and the narrative thread strays, as in an ill-conceived detour to Hell. Still, it's a lively journey. (Morrow, $19.95)

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