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Wednesday, August 8,2012

Satanic verses

Author Michael Poore provides some damned good summer reading

by Bill Castanier

Michael Poore must have had a devil of a good time writing his debut novel “Up Jumps the Devil” about a modern-day Lucifer on the make for souls. Poore would probably be the first to admit that the Prince of Darkness is one hell of a popular character in literary fiction; he was, after all, inspired by reading “The Devil and Daniel Webster” in his youth.  

Since the devil began showing up in literature in the 1300s in works such as Dante’s “Inferno,” there’s been no shortage of casting calls for him as either protagonist or antagonist. He’s there in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” and is later exported to America, where Mark Twain dropped him into “Letters from Earth.” Most recently, transgressional fictionist Chuck Palahniuk (“The Fight Club”) cast Old Nick in his novel titled simply “Damned.”

The devilīs dark doings have captivated authors for centuries, so it was only natural for Poore to continue this love affair.

“I was always fascinated about what may be hiding in the closet,” Poore said. “There is a great deal we don’t know about ourselves, and it sounded like a lot of fun to write about.”

Initially, Poore wrote his devil, John Scratch, as a porn star with amnesia, but  he admits that was a bad idea. He then turned to classic Americana, tracing Scratch’s interaction with humanity from Plymouth Rock through the ‘60s music scene. Poore, who teaches American history in his day job (he’s a seventh grade social science teacher in northern Indiana, and he said this book is off-limits for his class due to content), has woven some memorable historic moments throughout his book. 

Always one to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, Scratch throws in with the Puritans. He describes them as a clumsy lot: “If the white people had a plan, he observed over time it was this: Come ashore, build a fort, and starve to death.” Scratch makes some promises to the passionate Jenny Mather, through whom he assists the early American settlers to climb out of their death spiral. He later works closely with Nat Turner, starts a reality TV show, and finds himself in Alcatraz working with the Aryan Brotherhood. 

Later, the devil runs across Memory, Zachary and Fish, a trio of down-on-their-luck musicians at the proverbial midnight crossroads. The promise of fame, power and wealth leads to the cutting of a deal, harkening back to the legend of blues great Robert Johnson and the plot of Charlie Daniels’ song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” After Scratch promises one of promoters a huge crowd, the band finds itself on stage at Woodstock — until a biblical wind destroys the stage and their dreams. In the devil’s world, not everything is as it seems and we then follow our budding musicians as their lives go in unsuspected directions. All the while, Scratch pines for Memory, who has a little problem with her lower case memory.

Poore said he thought it was important to write about the “human side” of the devil, imbuing him with fallible traits. And as a human, Scratch roars through the Ten Commandments with vigor and violation. But for a guy who has been around forever, he can still make some bad decisions, such as placing himself in Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. A guy could get shot doing that.

Poore believes that society has always been fascinated by the devil because they “are just a little bit jealous of him.”

“He represents freedom in a lot of ways and he does things in his own way,” he said. “He’s a little bit scary and when he camps out in your soul, you don’t know where he will take you.”

Even though Poore said he isn’t much of a believer, he warns that “you don’t ever want to write about the devil casually.” “Up Jumps the Devil” is an ambitious and gratifying work for a first-time novelist. The author denies any attachment to the literary equivalent of the Four Corners and will measure carefully any of the fame and afterglow that comes with writing an audacious novel that can be both horrifying and humorous, with touches of Vonnegut and Irving.

As he writes about Memory, “Fame is like an animal, too. It was like having a lion on a silver chain. It impressed people that you had it. It brought you good things, but it made demands, too. It had to be fed. It was phones that never stopped ringing. It was deadlines and miles to be traveled and hard work to be done.”

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, indeed.

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