In the space of just over two months, prolific author Roland Merullo has sent forth two novels so different that you initially wonder if he has...
“A Little Love Story”
by Roland Merullo
Shaye Areheart Books, 288 pp., $23
“Golfing with God: A Novel of Heaven and Earth”
by Roland Merullo
Algonquin Books, 288 pp., $23.95
In the space of just over two months, prolific author Roland Merullo has sent forth two novels so different that you initially wonder if he has a colleague with the identical name. How else to account for an impassioned, charming but rather conventional love story emerging almost in a dead heat with a literary fantasy that elevates the game of golf to a spiritual quest shared with the Creator?
What unites these both is the heart of the author, whose prose carries an emotional heat that communicates directly with the reader. Also linking the two books is a fact of Merullo’s personal life: his daughter’s 2001 diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, a serious and life-shortening illness.
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The plucky, feisty heroine of “A Little Love Story,” Janet Rossi, is a high-powered and sexy aide to the governor of Massachusetts; she also suffers from cystic fibrosis. And in an essay written for Algonquin Books’ publicity, Merullo explains that it was his own daughter’s diagnosis, and his subsequent wrestling with “the question of why children suffer,” that led him to write “Golfing with God” as an exploration of the meaning of life.
So these close-together novels have a link after all, in their underlying psychological underpinning. The cystic fibrosis issue lends an extra poignancy to “A Little Love Story,” in which carpenter/artist Jake Entwhistle meets Janet Rossi when she backs into his elderly truck. Jake is still getting over the death of his unfaithful fiancé on Sept. 11, 2001, in the plane crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania; Janet is all too conscious that her disease makes her a poor long-term risk for a relationship. Coming to terms with their love, his past and her health, Jake rails against the “mean-hearted trickster God … God of the screaming businesswoman going through the sky in an upside-down aluminum tube, and the man she shouldn’t have been sleeping with beside her.”
Against all the odds, Merullo draws both optimism and humor from his characters, and you’re ready to believe in the hopeful finale that the author is too smart to overstate.
“Golfing with God” is told from the perspective of Hank, a former golf pro who has gone to heaven and now spends his time on the afterlife’s 8,187 unbelievably great golf courses. He is summoned to the presence of the Almighty, who relaxes with a game of golf after a tough day of running the universe — but has a little trouble with His short game, and needs some coaching.
Here is God addressing Hank: “I’m in a slump like nothing anyone has seen in a million years and you’re going to make my game right again, or I’m going to quit the damn sport forever and take up needlepoint.”
God assumes many forms, from “a sort of stevedore with flashing eyes” to a beautiful woman; it is in that latter guise that the two of them descend to Earth to play the great courses there and master a few life lessons in the process. Finally, Hank returns to heaven (it smells like lilacs) and then engages in a spot of reincarnation and is granted one more life on Earth. It’s another chance at golf greatness but also a step toward Hank’s “destiny as a full human soul who has attained — I say this in all humility — some degree of intimacy with the divine intelligence we refer to as God.”
Needless to say, this book will resonate more with golf lovers than with the rest of us. But Merullo’s patient good humor makes the journey with Hank a surprisingly universal undertaking.
Melinda Bargreen is the classical music critic for The Seattle Times.