Little Lust Stories

April 21st, 2007

Golfing with God (Algonquin/ Workman) and A Little Love Story (Shaye Areheart/ Random House) by Roland Merullo '75, '76 AM.

God's been having trouble withhis (or her, depending on the day) golf game. So when a former golf pro named Hank Winston arrives in Heaven, he receives a summons from the Boss - a scruffy old guy with an Einstein hairdo and a smoker's gravelly voice. Winston diagnoses the problem with ease; God's got the yips: faced with an easy, three-foot putt, He's clutching. It's the same problem Winston suffered as a young man; in fact it's why he quit the circuit and started teaching. Which is what God's getting at.

God, it turns out, has a plan for Hank Winston. Part of it involves reclaiming the name he was born with, Herman Fins-Winston, and another part involves reclaiming his soul's true fate as a champion.

In this slender "novel of Heaven and Earth," as the subtitle puts it, Roland Merullo leaves behind the working-class community he chronicled in his Revere Beach Trilogy, set outside Boston. Instead, he has created a gentle and often laugh-out-loud funny allegory that follows Hank Winston around some of Heaven's 8,187 golf courses and back to the clubhouse for Guinness and onion rings. Hank plays with Buddha, who's mad at God for spreading the rumor that he threw a club in anger. Moses, Jesus, and Mary invite Hank along for a game (Moses, not surprisingly, is a hothead).

To prepare Hank for his next spiritual and athletic challenge, God accompanies the aging golfer back to Earth, appearing this time as a trophy wife - a trim young blond named Alicia who's heavily encrusted with gold and diamonds. In a pastel pink Cadillac with a trunk full of swank golf duds and expensive clubs, the two make a tour of top courses in the southern United States. Alicia gets Hank into ever more stressful games as they travel from Williamsburg to Augusta National to the Greenbriar. He faces his old demons, narrowly defeating the devil, and Alicia in turn forgives Hank his old sins. Like the old Christian mystics, Hank lusts mightily for his God.

A less sacred lust attracts the protagonists of Merullo's A Little Love Story, which is exactly what the title promises - nothing more and nothing less. A year to the day after the death of his girlfriend, carpenter-cum-artist Jake Entwhistle meets Janet Rossi when she smacks into his truck in the parking lot of a doughnut shop.

They wind up in bed after a midnight dunk in Boston's Charles River (ick) and fall in love amid more than the usual complications: not only does Janet have cystic fibrosis, but she's sleeping with her boss - the slimy, ambitious governor of Massachusetts. Jake's grief isn't straightforward either; his old girlfriend died on flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11.

Merullo peoples this, like his other novels, with complex characters whose capacity for good outweighs their very realistic foibles. Jake and his partner banter entertainingly as they hammer nails, and Janet's brittleness softens as she discovers how much she wants to live.

Stay tuned for the movies; one will make you laugh and the other will make you cry.

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Related Issue
January / February 2006