The Messiah of Morris Avenue A Novel

Tony Hendra




Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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The Messiah of Morris Avenue is a novel set in a very reverent future where church and state walk hand in hand. The story begins as Johnny Greco—a jaded journalist who nurses a few grudges along with his cocktails—stumbles onto a kindhearted young man named Jay, who is driving around New Jersey preaching radical notions like kindness and generosity, while tossing off a few miracles. The most ordinary of men, Jay is not the sort to impress the rich and powerful religious leaders who now rule America, but he touches the hearts of the poor and troubled in neighborhoods where those other kinds of Christians never seem to visit.
Johnny, who prides himself on being an unbeliever, finds himself inspired. But not in the way anyone might imagine: Using the tricks of his trade, he decides to write a news-making story about Jay's miracles that will rekindle his own career and transform the blue-jeaned, not-ready-for-prime-time savior into a figure to rival the Reverend James Sabbath, America's #1 holy warrior, whose church has become a powerful worldwide conglomerate. But as the reporter's plan starts taking effect, as Sabbath fumes and people across the country begin to ponder the notion that Jay might actually be the Second Coming, something truly strange begins to happen. Died-in-the-wool skeptic Johnny actually begins to believe in something. He finds his own life being transformed by the words of the humble man he has never truly taken seriously.

The Messiah of Morris Avenue portrays some of the more controversial questions of our time through satire. Tony Hendra brings to life a savior who reminds the world of the lessons of love and kindness that Jesus actually taught as he skewers all sorts of sanctimoniousness on both sides of the political spectrum.


Praise for The Messiah of Morris Avenue

"Hendra weaves a clever tale of the Second Coming . . . The tone isn't preachy and is sometimes downright funny."—Rocky Mountain News

"Hendra draws a funny, frightening portrait of a militantly Christian America . . . What this book has to say about media, religion, and culture is as valid in our society as in Hendra's imagined one."—BookPage

"Messiah is just what this country needs right now—a good dose of merriment in the face of crawthumping righteousness. It's a romp of a book but (this is strange) the forgiving spirit of Father Joe hovers. It's hard to think of forgiveness in these rigid times but it's there in The Messiah of Morris Avenue. A rowdy book but, Lord, it's beautiful."—Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes and Teacher Man

"I was prepared for my usual serving of sharp Tony Hendra satire; I was not prepared for his sensitive and highly convincing exposition of the true teachings of Jesus Christ. I love this book."—George Carlin

"Hendra follows his bestselling memoir about his spiritual mentor with a debut novel detailing the near-future Second Coming. The United States is a theocracy. The Christian Right has triumphed. Mere blasphemy is a crime in this militarized and vengeful nation. The second messiah will not be crucified but lethally injected in a Christian-run prison in Texas. All of this we learn from the prologue. Narrator Johnny Greco claims to be the Judas figure here, though that's a misnomer. He's an aging journalist who has seen better days, which, for one thing, brought him a Pulitzer; now he works for a sleazy Internet outfit, pursuing rumors of a miracle worker in the northeast. What sets this charlatan apart from others is his lack of interest in publicity. Johnny first catches sight of him in a Connecticut court, where he's charged with practicing medicine without a license after curing a woman's leukemia. He gets six months. The messiah is known as Jay. He was raised in the Bronx by his Guatemalan immigrant mother; his Irish father was seldom around. Jay is not exactly the picture of ethereal beauty, but he possesses undeniable charisma, as Johnny discovers once they've met one-on-one. Jay has returned to 'refresh the message,' he says; contemporary Christianity he finds 'unrecognizable.' Johnny's sessions with Jay are the novel's high points—Jay's combination of strength and sweetness is remarkably poignant . . . A moving portrait of a messiah within . . . a satire . . . with just enough edge to get media and readers' attention."—Kirkus Reviews

"Hendra, author of the very moving memoir Father Joe, returns to his satiric roots in this offbeat novel about the Second Coming. Fruits from the author's stints as editor of Spy and National Lampoon fall plentifully throughout this madcap tale, set in a near-future America in which the religious right has taken over the country. Hollywood is now Holywood. Presidents are elected—or, really, appointed—on the basis of their religious fervor. Sweeping new laws render anything even remotely critical of religion illegal. Into this sickly puritanical society comes Jose Francisco Lorcan Kennedy, in his scruffy hooded sweatshirt, claiming to be the Child of God. Is he crazy? Internet journalist (and disgraced Pulitzer Prize winner) Johnny Greco thinks so, at first. But soon he and a lot of other people are persuaded otherwise. This is satire with a thoughtful heart, comedy with a serious message (several of them, in fact). Many of the author's sly allusions to contemporary society may elude young readers, but adults of the right political persuasion will get a Swiftian kick out it all."—David Pitt, Booklist

"In Hendra's debut novel, the Christian Far Right totally controls the U.S. government. The most powerful man in the country, then, is not the president but his spiritual advisor, the Rev. James Zebediah Sabbath, who has carved a political path of righteousness that's left countless lives destroyed. One of the Reverend's victims, Johnny Greco, is barely surviving this new church-state regime. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has been reduced to working for an online newspaper of ephemeral reporting, for which he investigates the rumors of a new messiah wandering the East Coast performing miracles. His search leads to Jose Francisco Lorcan Kennedy, or Jay, a quiet, unassuming man supported by disciples made up of society's lost and reviled. As Greco's reporting brings Jay's activities to the attention of the Reverend, the inevitable turn of events converts Greco's bitter cynicism into true faith. Hendra has created a darkly humorous and sincerely spiritual version of the Second Coming of Christ. Recommended."—Library Journal

"In the near future of this alternately cynical and rapturous fable, America is a theocracy where the Christian Right, empowered by laws against blasphemy and witchcraft, controls everything from Congress to 'Holywood' and foments Armageddon. Christ chooses this time to return in the guise of Jose, the Bronx-bred son of a Guatemalan immigrant with a discipleship of drifters and crack whores. Charismatic, open about his divinity and obliging with miracles, Jose wins over even Johnny Grecco, the jaundiced reporter who writes his gospel. Journalist Hendra, author of the best-selling Catholic-mentorship memoir Father Joe and former editor in chief of Spy, makes Jose the savior of liberal Christianity. Jose's . . . militantly for love and tolerance and against war and creationism. Hendra writes a heart-wrenching Passion story."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads




  • The Messiah of Morris Avenue by Tony Hendra--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Tony Hendra's novel The Messiah of Morris Avenue. The acclaimed satirist and bestselling author of Father Joe poses the question, would we recognize the messiah if he appeared today? In the not so distant future, the tide of righteousness--in the form of executions, barking evangelists, tank-like SUVs, and a movie industry run entirely by the Christian right--has swept the nation.



  • Tony Hendra

  • Tony Hendra attended Cambridge University, where he performed frequently with friends and future Monty Pythons John Cleese and Graham Chapman. He was editor in chief of Spy, an original editor of National Lampoon, and he played Ian Faith in This Is Spinal Tap. He has written frequently for New York, Harper's, GQ, Vanity Fair, Men's Journal, and Esquire. His first book, Father Joe, was a New York Times Bestseller. He lives in New York.





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