Calling Bernadette's Bluff: A Novel
There’s only one real taboo left in 21st Century America, and Jack Kassel’s got it bad. He doesn’t believe in God. And even that might be all right if he didn’t teach at the College of Saint Bernadette, but he does. Nothing is more important to Jack than reason, the triumph of truth over comforting fantasies, but Saint Bernie’s is the land of created realities, where critical thoughts go to die. When his oldest partner in disbelief shows up as the campus priest, Jack edges nearer the abyss, finally plunging over when his ex-wife enrolls their brilliant young son in a Lutheran school and the boy begins quoting Scripture in response to Jack’s questions. Back against the wall, Jack starts to “come out” as a non-believer at what turns out to be the worst possible time --- as an alleged vision of the Virgin Mary turns the college into a holy pilgrimage site.
“A novel of principles and substance...CALLING BERNADETTE ́S BLUFF is surprising not in the form but in the execution --- in boldness, in originality, in the spit and shine of the prose ... The president, the philosopher, the priestess, and the priest nail us again and again by sentences, as it were, fired by builders’ guns...All that’s superfluous burns, as readers become powder, fuse, and match.” --- Robert Grunst, author of The Smallest Bird in North America
"Wicked funny...CALLING BERNADETTE ́S BLUFF cleverly captures some of the primary paradoxes of contemporary American life, especially our humble human yearning for truth in an age of absurdity. The hilarious answer to what might happen if David Lodge met David Foster Wallace on a Wendy Wasserstein set." --- Cecilia Konchar Farr, author of Dancing Through the Doctrine
"Entertaining, insightful...genuinely brilliant." --- Theresa Ostrom, author of The Folding Year
"CALLING BERNADETTE ́S BLUFF is an undoubted triumph of academic satire...in excellent company with other satirical novels of academe; from David Lodge to Jane Smiley, from Malcolm Bradbury to James Hynes, Dale McGowan is easily their match in wit and depth. [It’s a] mightily funny sendup of faith and letters...but Bernadette ́s Bluff is also a delightful, insightful investigation into the heart of faith of a different kind, of the universal human need for a belief system, of the search for truth and meaning and a life lived honestly." --- Sharon Schulz-Elsing, Curled Up With a Good Book reviews
This remarkable debut novel diverts the full force of the postmodern whirlwind onto a tiny fictional college on the Minnesota prairie, with results both thought-provoking and hilarious. Nonsense of every color --- political, religious, ideological --- finds fertile ground within the gates of St. Bernie ́s, a college perched precariously on a bizarre land formation of unknown origins, known (tellingly) as The Wedge. Author Dale McGowan puts the tiny trumpet of reason into the unsteady hands of Jack John Kassel, philosopher and humanist, whose attempts to live with a little intellectual integrity are shaken as much by the antics of his erstwhile allies as by his intellectual opponents. McGowan creates characters that are at once recognizable and absurd: the atheist priest, the New-Agey college president, the feminist warrior (and Leonard the Poet, who sublimates his love for her by reading dirty Chaucer), Satanists, liturgical cheerleaders, singing nuns... all with cards against the vest and each other in their crosshairs. The dialogue moves from classical philosophy to cheesy pop culture with merciless speed and devastating wit. On the surface it’s riotous entertainment, but for weeks after you close the cover this remarkable book will resonate in your head, tickling the mind in lovely and unfamiliar places.