By Josiah Hesse
It would be easy to claim that Carnality: Dancing on Red Lake is author Josiah Hesse’s scathing vilification of the far right Christian Evangelism. None of the characters have anything resembling a healthy relationship with the religion, for example. And its main character is virtually tortured by his father—a mentally ill, Rapture-fearing, paranoid preacher—who also cripples his wife to prevent her from engaging in the sin of dancing. But through the skewering castigations of the damage evangelism can cause in the wrong hands, Hesse shows the humanity of some of its cohorts through his protagonist, Jacob. Even though Jacob narrates the story as a contemporary convert to atheism, he expounds a history of his past as a well-meaning, naive farm boy in Iowa who attempts to adhere to the obsessive sermons and psychiatric instability of his father at his own detriment. He also tells the story of how his parents met in the 1960s when they were fresh-faced and full of good intentions. It’s through this latter plotline that Hesse traces the evolution of the West Coast hippie movement from LSD-fueled dropouts to the Moral Majority of the 1980s. Throughout the pages of Carnality: Dancing on Red Lake, Hesse manages to juxtapose the destructive nature of religious fanatics with their naive, good intentioned counterparts, while intertwining elements of historical fiction. It’s an intriguing debut that sheds light on both a community that’s not often discussed without derision in mainstream culture and a frequently overlooked history of fringe America.