Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Spring 2003

Weapon in Heaven by David Bulley  


Weapon in Heaven
David Bulley
Dandelion Books, Arizona
141 pp. $14.95

On the back flap of David Bulley’s debut novel, Weapon in Heaven, a synoptic blurb says that Eddy Licklighter, the book’s protagonist, “is a contemporary version of the Biblical Job.” Not entirely true. Licklighter is more of an anti-Job or Job’s pissed off semi-evil twin. No piety in the face of catastrophe here. He wants payback.

The novel begins with Eddy acting the part of woodsman sparing that tree, when he refuses to use his chainsaw on a Maine pine “older than the country.” He refuses not out of any inborn naturalist streak or sudden Sierra Club urge but because God tells him to. Yes, that God.

When he is rewarded for his attentiveness to divine whim by having his wife and daughter taken from him in a house fire, he becomes understandably miffed at the Almighty, dubbing the big h Him “a dirty fucker.” Eddy also responds with a number of acts that could in no way be described as “God-fearing”: including painting the aforementioned epithet in five-foot-tall red letters on every church in Millinocket.

The blasphemous message is enough to attract Paul (a minister in flight from authorities for some extracurricular activity with a precocious sixteen-year-old boy) to the charms of Millinocket—especially the charms of the highway rest stop where homosexuals are rumored to congregate. Paul has his own reasons for hating God, the prime reason being the repressed urges God has quite inconveniently placed in Paul’s psyche and body. The remainder of the book deals with Paul’s struggle with his gender orientation, Eddy’s plan to murder God, and God’s plan to purify and torture Eddy by killing those around him while simultaneously imbuing him with an invulnerability second to only Superman. Job was never this unassailed.

In Weapon in Heaven, the characters are small town and so is the prose style. There’s an aw-shucks-ness here that some readers will love and others will shun. People who eat up Raymond Carver and Wallace Stegner will enjoy Eddy Licklighter’s story immensely, while fans of Pynchon and Joyce might be better off looking elsewhere for a summer read. Bulley’s minimalist approach lapses into near dialect even in the narrative descriptions but it suits the story well ... for the most part.

One can forgive the occasional “fella” for “fellow” and some of the other drawl aspects, but one has to draw the line at repeated incorrect non-dialogue use of “lay”/“lie” and the substitution of “of” for “have.” (Example: He could of gone to the store. It’s “have.”). Dialogue is open season, but the writer who strays too far from MOR grammar without a real-world, non-omniscient narrator to blame mistakes on is leaving himself/herself open to legitimate accusations of literary misprision and gross editorial negligence.

In the area of design, the cover is unfortunate to say the least, screaming a kind of 1993 web graphics halation. Not attractive or particularly professional. Too few eyes, and more pointedly, too few professional editorial eyes went into the printing of this book and it shows now and then. Not quite often enough to fatally disrupt the rich plot or the exceedingly strong character portrayal, but enough to irritate and potentially alienate anyone with an English degree or a working knowledge of the Chicago Manual of Style. Bulley also shows an ever-so-slight tendency to overwork his physical actions at times, often including utterly unnecessary points B and C on the way from A to D. In good literature, the unspoken often involves the reader more substantially than the obvious. Bulley  understands this for the most part and—as this is his debut—will no doubt learn to trust the reader more in subsequent works and cut to the chase, as it were. 

It is a testament to the strength of the story that I felt somewhat disappointed at the clipped denouement that makes up the conclusion of the story of Eddy Licklighter’s disagreement with God. I kept wishing for some more protracted view of the consequences involved, but what is a reader to do when faced with a desire to know what happens beyond the end of a good story? With his deft control of plot and character, David Bulley leaves the reader wanting more. Two slaps on the wrist, however, for editorial misconduct.