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The Revelator

Fiction  |  Novel
256 pages
5.4” x 8.4” perfect-bound trade paperback
ISBN: 978-1939419507
First Edition
Unnamed Press
Los Angeles, California, USA
Available HERE
Review by Edmund Sandoval

By the end of the first paragraph of Robert Kloss’ The Revelator, a band of mutinous sailors are shot through their heads and sent to the bottom of the drink, their bodies weighted with lead to keep them there. By the end of Kloss’ prologue, an unspecified island’s unnamed native population has been enslaved and brutalized, their resources pillaged, their way of life annihilated, crushed under the heavy bootheel of the same man responsible for the execution of the mutineers. Things don’t get much better from there.

Fast forward a few years and Kloss’ already-bleak world has not gained any polish. It is stark and it is hard and it is unrelenting. It is peopled by a hardscrabble lot of men and women on the bare edge of the new American frontier. There is violence, and it is ever present and dispassionate, as mundane as swallowing back saliva or clearing a bit of grit from the eye. Their lives are framed by a hardship that is raw and fresh. The excitement of a new life in a new land has been cast aside. They live in “constant and obsequious dread of the Almighty,” and in the shadow of the black mountain, which they pray and sacrifice to. At the fringes of their communities are unknown lands, forests where the hopeless hang lifeless from trees, natives keen on exacting vengeance upon these hordes of pale-skinned denizens. Life, one could say, ain’t pretty:

And when all faiths and tonics were exhausted they were found slouched against boulders, their heads blown out, pistol fallen to their chest, or they dangled from the trees, their necks rope burned red, and black tongues distended. So many gave up their flesh beneath His black mountain that medical students traded the graveyard for this forest when seeking fresh corpses.

It is on this fragile precipice where we are introduced to our unnamed narrator, our revelator. In scenes reminiscent of a fairytale, we learn of his first years. He is a child when we meet him, an orphan—his parents, we learn, murdered, and upon his rescue, he is bathed in the blood of his recently deceased parents. His keepers are a farming family. Of course, they are cruel; the child sleeps in the barn and is given the dregs as sustenance. Years pass, and the narrator grows. As a young man, he takes to the soil, the work, strong as a dray horse. From his post in the barn, he becomes enamored by the farmer’s daughter, a woman he cannot approach, due equally to threat, his own fear. It is during this lovelorn period when he is first contacted by the Almighty:

So in this way you laid the night the Almighty first whispered your name. And into the night you were compelled, into the forests beyond the farmer’s fields, as if led by a hand unseen, into the depth of blackness of the forest interior, where around you silent animals observed, until into this world the creature of the Almighty appeared. Now the fullness of its horror: veined wings and obsidian horns and hooves of soot and fur tufted legs, and its eyes crimson and shining, as if lit by the eternal furnace of His soul.

When the daughter of the farmer is married, our narrator leaves, rejecting the penurious life of his youth, the cruelty of the farm. In time he is taken in by an agnostic shopkeeper. He soon finds the debauched side of things, falling into alcohol and women and all things vile. While the specter of the creature of the Almighty is present, it is relegated to the sidelines. It is not until he has found a wife with the daughter of his third caretaker, a butcher, that things really get cooking, in a revelatory sense, of course:

... And as you lowered yourself against your wife, snoring or murmuring of the children she had birthed only to see die, you heard only the hum of those golden plates, the rustling of the Almighty’s creature along your floorboards, and through the blood crashing your ears, the thumping of your heart, you knew Him upon His black mountain, ever and ever again uttering your name into the faint and terrified reaches of your soul: JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH.

Those not familiar with the mythical origins and revelations and travels of Joseph Smith might do well not to investigate too deeply into the history of the man and his doings. This is, after all, a fiction. Though it is informed by the legend of Smith, it is not a history of the man. After some cursory research of my own, I found, much to my chagrin, that there was no mention of a winged creature that reeked of brimstone whispering revelation into his ear. Much of the fun, if one can call it that, is watching this seemingly average man (though fearsomely flawed) grow into his namesake of revelator. It is a spectacular ascension and one wonders: Has he been chosen? Is this the word of the Almighty? Is he mad? Does it matter? In a bold stylistic move, we experience each and every one of our narrator’s feelings literally, as Kloss has written his story in the second person (as was, I might note, his previous novel). If you do yourself the favor of diving into the “you” without prejudice, you will see wondrous things, you will see death, you will see life, you will see revelation issue forth like water.

There has been no shortage of kooks and charlatans and snake-oil salesmen selling the promise of salvation throughout the history of this country. There has been no shortage of blood spilling and horror-making throughout the history of this country, as well. There are ample doses of both front and center from page one to page end throughout this novel. Its depiction is unflinching and no one—man, woman, and child—is spared from the quieting hand of death. It is powerful stuff, and at times hard to reckon with. Yet this landscape, though framed through the lens of fiction, is true to the unbending will of those determined to survive when our slice of continent was still an unfamiliar land. That it is seen, to a degree, through the eyes of a prophet whose efforts are felt to this day throughout the country gives the book an extra and welcome dose of heft. With this book, Robert Kloss, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, has given us a worthy gift. It is well worth reading, carnage and all.

EDMUND SANDOVAL lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in The Minnesota Review, The Common, Fourteen Hills, and The Mud Season Review, among others. He earned his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
• This book was sent to the reviewer from the publisher at the reviewer’s request. The reviewer does not know the author or publisher personally. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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