By Adam Sol
(Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2008)
REVIEW BY Nicholas Bradley
“Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” So asks the biblical Jeremiah, who bears the Lord’s word but is tormented by public indifference and his own doubts. The Jeremiah of Adam Sol’s sequence of short poems goes as unheeded as the Old Testament prophet.
Sol sets his adaptation of the biblical story in the contemporary American Midwest, where “prophecy is an art with no audience.” A simple narrative unfolds: a “poor bastard,” divinely inspired or mentally ill, is befriended by a down-on-his-luck truck driver, and the two travel from Ohio to Manhattan. The escapade creates unlikely comedy—Bruce drives while Jeremiah, echoing his namesake, utters things such as “Bruce, you are a pillar in a garden of cucumbers.” But at book’s end, Jeremiah’s claim that “we still do not know the path to righteousness” rings true: his sermons have gained him no followers. While leaving open the possibility that Jeremiah might only be a harmless hobo, the comic-tragic tale asks whether a prophet of radical change will be heard by a materialistic world.
Sol’s skill at combining Jeremiah’s oratorical mode with the seemingly incongruous language of the interstate makes the story compelling. Jeremiah, Ohio warns that “the hot gust” of truth might appear in the guise of madness; the challenge is to distinguish Cassandras from hucksters, true prophets from false.