Dying for strangers

An itinerant preacher in a dirty Day-Glo yellow suit, accompanied by a young girl who hauls a cart full of Bibles, drops like a rock in the middle of a dusty Nebraska back road. A group of four men carry him to a nearby blind woman’s house, where he prepares to die in the presence of strangers. Robert Vivian’s novel has more than enough plot to satisfy, as the characters (all except the blind woman) take turns narrating the event, and we understand how strangely the events have unfolded that brought them to this deathbed. Why has the preacher been rehearsing his death, and why must it be performed—for it seems staged for all its reality—in front of this particular group of strangers? But the real star here is Vivian’s use of language, poetic and rich, which makes an apocalyptic story that takes place in a small room become almost biblical in proportion.