Chocolate Jesus
Stephen Jaramillo
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Get Stephan Jaramillo's *Chocolate Jesus* delivered to your door! Chocolate Jesus
Stephan Jaramillo
Berkley Trade
249 pages
May 1998
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Stephan Jaramillo's first novel, Going Postal, got some rave reviews from giant voices in the publishing world such as Publishers Weekly and the New York Times Book Review. Hailed as a better Gen-X novel, its optimism and fresh humor set Jaramillo apart from the ennui and cynicism of many of his contemporaries. Chocolate Jesus, Jaramillo's second novel, reaffirms those initial judgments. A clear eye for the absurdities of everyday life and an ear for humorous dialogue both self-righteous and unself-conscious give Jaramillo a leg up on the rest of the literary Generation X crowd.

Chocolate Jesus is a delicious comedy of errors that takes chance meetings of the fortunate and misfortunate and turns them into an outrageous narrative rife with misunderstandings and schemes. Outsized egos and self-absorption keep the story people from really knowing each other and from striving for a greater understanding. Everyone here is just trying to either get ahead, to get one over on someone else, or to just manage to stay flush. Levels of dysfunction are high in interpersonal relationships, providing ample opportunity for hilarity.

Sydney Corbet, blessed with an extremely high IQ and cursed with an utter dearth of real-world social skills, finds himself cast out from his nearly lifelong voluntary exile at the Koala Center (a Positivistic Care Facility for the Mildly Neurotic) in Tempe, Arizona, when his bill-paying grandfather dies. He moves in with his older brother, Marty, and gets a job flipping burgers and sweeping parking lots at Jack Anvil's Charbroiled Burgers (Home of the Jax Pounders). To keep his mind off his gimp leg (one is shorter than the other) and off his guilt over his mother's untimely death when he was merely a child, Sydney crams his time full with researching the JFK assassination and with writing letters of complaint and suggestion to various corporate entities.

Marty Corbet, a blue-collar kind of guy who works for the Stromboli Poultry Company, has more than enough on his mind already without having to deal with his little brother and the attendant psychological disorders. He's a compulsive gambler -- he lost a load when Lipinski upset Kwan in the figure-skating finals -- and he's in for a whole lot of cash to his bookie. When he discovers that his grandfather willed him a baseball card collection instead of the hoped-for cash windfall, Marty begins seriously to worry for his physical well-being. Sydney's moving in with him is just the icing on Marty's cake.

The Reverend Willie Domingo (head of the Church of the Returning Vegetarian Christ) has done surprisingly well with his doctrine of fitness and meatlessness for the Lord. But Reverend Willie knows that nothing whips up the righteous masses like a nearing apocalypse, so he predicts Jesus' return to boost his radio show's ratings (Sweatin' with the Lord) and his ministry's revenues. While his Mexican assistant Jesus Torres waits patiently, camera in hand, for the appearance of the legendary chupacabra to make his fortune, Willie Domingo grows apprehensive as his predicted end of the world grows nearer and his listeners grow more zealous.

Wilbur Bea is desperate to run (or at least sell) Bea's Candies, home of the Wad Gomper, the company his oxygen-tanked chain-smoking mother (founder, president, and revered icon) holds tantalizingly just beyond Wilbur's attention-deficited reach. Mother loves tormenting son, and son lives for the day he can ruin mother. Mrs. Bea and Wilbur hatch continuous plots and counterplots toward those ends. When Wilbur finds a letter (planted by, of course, Mrs. Bea) from Sydney Corbet suggesting a Chocolate Jesus (for Easter) as the shot in the arm Bea's Candies needs to put it back on top in the candy world, Wilbur leaps at the idea, setting in motion a chain of events that will bring together the mini-universes of all the characters in an apocalyptic, cataclysmic, positively uproarious collision of desires.

Chocolate Jesus and Stephan Jaramillo prove that one whole generation of writers is not necessarily blase', bored and boring. Jaramillo's prose is funny, in the now, hip without being snotty: in all a delightful, addictive find.

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