Before the Flood by John Sherman

This is a book about the second coming. It follows Thomas, a jaded reporter, addict, and preacher’s son, as he unravels the story around a mysterious boy named Manny. At first, Thomas’s primary source is Beth, Manny’s adopted mother, but Thomas’s compulsive need to know the truth pulls him deeper until he encounters Manny, his disciples, and those trying to destroy them. The ultimate conflict, though, is whether Thomas will allow himself to believe.

If you aren’t a fan of religious themes, this isn’t the book for you. If those don’t turn you off, then it’s a well written rendition of the second coming that does a better job than most of avoiding condescension and excessive sermonizing. That said, two issues keep the book from standing out. First, the story is straightforward and feels more inevitable than it does interesting. Second, its framing as a series of flashbacks and quasi-parables deprives the book of any sense of immediacy. Although individual scenes are enjoyable, the whole ends up being flat.

There aren’t any unexpected turns in the narrative. Manny is the second coming whose purpose is to eventually punish mankind for its sins, Thomas is an atheist-via-abuse whose finds his faith again, and Beth is the mother struggling with her child’s divinity. There are apostles, the devil, and trials which test Manny’s commitment and faith, but everything plays out how you would expect it to.

It’s a shame that’s the case, because the book is full of small, thoughtful moments that inject more compassion than one would usually expect in this kind of story. It’s far more about the struggles of faith than it is hellfire and punishment. In fact, the only self-righteous character is the devil.

The story’s framing robs the book of most of its vitality. Instead of riding along on Thomas’s shoulder as he went deeper into the rabbit hole, I felt like I was reading his diary. This put an unnecessary amount of distance between the reader and the story, and since Thomas is about as textbook a lost-his-faith-and-finds-it-again character as he can be, the author really couldn’t afford to frame the story in a detached way.

The problems with the novel are a shame because I feel there was a more interesting story to be told. If the author had been willing to subvert the second coming narrative instead of dressing it in new clothes, or had told it from a different perspective, he could have done much more with it. Unfortunately, because each segment of the story was a parable with a predictable outcome, no amount of good writing was able to make it engaging fiction.

If you want to read a well-presented religious story concerning the second coming that doesn’t deviate from your expectations, this novel is worth a gander. But, besides a few interesting moments, nothing stands out as new or particularly unique. I give it a 3/5.

If you want to take a gander, you can pick up a copy from Amazon here.