Barry Lopez recently visited Boulder on his book tour, and mentioned that when he's not writing, he's reading Jim Crace and Russell Banks. He mentioned reading QUARANTINE in particular, and about Crace, Lopez said, "watch this guy."
The Bible says that Jesus went into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12-13). "Go into the desert if you must, and fast," Crace writes in this imaginative tale of that forty-day retreat into the wilderness. "But do take care. For god is not alone up there, if god is there at all. But there are animals; and the devil is the fiercest of them all" (p. 158). Written, perhaps, from the desert's point of view, Crace's 245-page novel reveals that Jesus's wilderness "quarantine" would be "achieved without the comforts and temptations of clothing, food and water. He'd put his trust in god, as young men do. He would encounter god or die, that was the nose and tail of it. That's why he'd come. To talk directly to his god. To let his god provide the water and the food. Or let the devil do its work. It would be a test for all three of them" (p. 22). Crace's writing is so vivid that it allows us to experience Jesus's quarantine for ourselves. "No one had said how painful it would be," Crace writes. "How first, there would be the headaches and bad breath, weakness, fainting; or how the coating on the upper surface of his tongue would thicken day by day; or how his tongue would soon become stuck to the upper part of his mouth, held in place by gluey strings of hunger, so that he would mutter to himself or say his prayers as if his palate had been cleft at birth; or how his gums would bleed and his teeth become as loose as date stones" (p. 157).
"They came to live like hermit bats, the proverbs said, for forty days, a quarantine of dayight fasting, solitude and prayer, in caves" (p. 11). In his fascinating novel, Crace introduces Jesus to other exiles, who had travelled into the Judean desert "mad with grief. Or shame. Or love. Or illnesses and visions. Mad enough to think that everything they did, no matter how vain or trivial, was of interest to their god. Mad enough to think that forty days of discomfort could put their world in order" (p. 12). Jesus's temptation arrives not in the form of a serpent or animal, but through the solicitations of a merchant, Musa. "For Jesus," Casey writes, "the merchant Musa and the devil were the same . . . he was a strong adversary for god" (pp. 154-55). Jesus knew that "angels and devils could not be told apart just by their looks," but as for Musa, "here was a devil then, sent to the wilderness, with death and fever as his friends, attended by four mad, unbelonging souls, to be adversaries to god . . . they'd come to tempt him from the precipice with their thin cries" (p. 112). Crace equates Musa's footprints to the footprints of "the burglar, the adulterer, the son who'd run away at night, the village sneak, the chicken thief" (p. 201).
Crace is a genius, and following his barefooted hero's journey into the stony desert is a brilliant, stunning, haunting experience that will leave you open-mouthed in awe.