The protagonist of my new novel, The Holy Ghost Speakeasy and Revival, is a Prohibition-era evangelist who also happens to be a bootlegger. His stage name is Solomon the Evangelist; although he is generally known within his traveling crusade as simply the Preacher. His given name is Jedidiah Robbins, but very few people know this, and less than a handful of people call him such. His beloved daughter calls him Papa.
These various names suggest just how complex a character he is, perhaps even an outright hypocrite. And yet … he is like all of us in that he is made up of contradictions. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, the hero of this tale is large; he contains multitudes.
Part of the reason that he wears so many masks is that he lives during the 1920s when America was suffering through a time of profound national conflict and hypocrisy. We raged against liquor even as we drank it; we thundered against lawlessness wearing the robes of the Ku Klux Klan; we screeched against immorality and sexual freedom on the way to and from the speakeasy and the prostitute.
It was the age we have since christened the Roaring Twenties, but for most of America, it was a time of prejudice, hunger, and fear rather than bathtub gin and flappers. In other words, Jedidiah Robbins is a human manifestation of this complex time and place—haunted by the past and leery of the future.
Within what passes for his family—the troupe of roustabouts and performers that make up his traveling, evangelical crusade—he is warm and loyal, a careful father and fierce friend. To the rural Southerners who fill their tent at each stop along the way, he is a charismatic whirlwind. But behind those masks, who is Solomon the Preacher?
Among other things, he a con man and a philosopher, a sensualist and an agnostic who, ironically, is obsessed with the Bible. H. L. Mencken—who makes a fictional appearance in the novel—calls him a cornfield Aristotle--profiteer and prophet.
In other words, he is a man in full—a potent cocktail of body, mind, and spirit, I hope you enjoy getting to know him.
Terry Roberts, author of A Short Time to Stay Here and That Bright Land
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