Mission to America
Walter Kirn
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Mission to America

Walter Kirn
288 pages
October 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Replete with New Age tracts and feminist ideals, the Aboriginal Fulfilled Apostles is a closed society in danger of extinction without the infusion of new female blood. Similar to the self-contained Amish culture albeit matriarchal, the AFA has existed for years without interference from the outside world. Until now.

Concerned with their dwindling numbers, the AFA elders send two representatives - Mason LaVerle and Elder Elias Stark - into the world from their enclave in Butte, Montana, charging them with sage advice: “If you’re going to convert, you might as well choose the wealthy, who have friends.”

At the beginning of their trip, the hapless missionaries are diligent in their observance of the rules, eating exclusively natural food and sleeping in the second-hand Dodge van provided for their journey, but before long they fall victim to temptation: lounging in a motel, gorging on junk food and watching television for hours on end, becoming psychologically invested in the outcome of game shows and daytime soaps.

In constant phone contact and spurred on in their mission by Lauer, an AFA advisor, the newly-hatched evangelists paper small towns with their literature, stopping occasionally for conversation. Their entire lives spent in a clannish environment provided by their elders, Mason and Earl are cultural innocents, occasionally falling for dubious roadside advice; for example, Earl purchases crank from a local and the young men spend a lazy afternoon with two equally messianic underage Christian girls.

Mason and Earl arrive at the tourist-friendly slopes of Snowshoe, Colorado, a haven for the spiritually overindulged, wealthy dilettantes who hand-pick their beliefs from a variety of sources, creating a loose philosophy that requires little real effort - an elitist’s compendium of moral values unburdened by personal responsibility. The missionaries are introduced to the local social hierarchy by Lara, an Emmy-winning ex-actress, easily infiltrating the upper-class of Snowshoe that Lauer suggests they cultivate, particularly the filthy rich old Mr. Effingham and his cronies.

Mason is quickly sidetracked by Betsy, a girl with an infamous past and a love of all things vintage, while Earl disappears into the bowels of the Effingham estate, the evangelists ensconced in a Neverland where communal damnation is an acceptable concept in an overfed, over-stimulated culture where every physical need is met, where a dinner menu given the importance of a summit meeting: “There was no such thing as separation here, not once you’d started listening. Never listen.”

Feted daily with the other guests, Mason and Earl are overwhelmed by the excess around them, grappling with individual concerns. Meanwhile, AFA is in crisis on the home front: “There is no authority Mason, we’re on our own.” His assessment of the new millennium as twisted as it is astute, Kirn dissects the complex heart of religious orientation in America, hypocritical gurus, the cult of personality and true believers who refuse to give up on moral slackers.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2005

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