I'll leave the real reviews of this engaging and complex work to the real reviewers and instead focus on one element that caught my attention. Vikar is an ex-divinity student who wound up studying architecture. The presentation of his final project doesn't go as well as hoped:
In fact the committee chairman's fury had nothing to do with the lion or axe but with the fact that the small model church had no door. "There's no way in!" the chairman thundered, and even as the years passed, by the time Vikar got to Los Angeles he couldn't be sure whether leaving out the door had been inadvertent: "I believe," Vikar had answered in all innocence, "it's more that there's no way out."The allusion to Van Gogh and his doorless Church at Auvers (painted in the last year of his life) is striking. His letters to Theo help explain his intent (as I sheepishly quote this):
The foreground of The Church at Auvers is brightly lit by the sun, but the church itself sits in its own shadow, and "neither reflects nor emanates any light of its own." After Van Gogh had been dismissed from the evangelical career he had hoped to continue in the Borinage, he wrote to his brother Theo from Cuesmes in July 1880, and quoted Shakespeare's image from Henry IV, Part 1 ("And I have not forgotten what the inside of a church is made of, I am a peppercorn, a brewer’s horse: the inside of a church!" — Act 3, Scene iii) of the dark emptiness inside a church to symbolize "empty and unenlightened preaching": "Their God is like the God of Shakespeare's drunken Falstaff, 'the inside of a church.'"(It's interesting that this Wikipedia entry uses Kathleen Powers Erickson's book, At Eternity's Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent van Gogh as a source. She's probably no relation...but it's interesting.)
I found it especially telling that Soledad (which means "loneliness" or "solitude" in Spanish) smashes the structure by hurling it against a hotel wall, also destroying the certain object Vikar had placed inside (at the altar).
At the point where Erickson writes, "Vikar doesn't know it, but everything now has been reset to zero", we begin to go backwards. The previous section gives him "visions of smashing Soledad in the face with a Coke bottle" and his perceptions have now been inverted. He has come full circle, and his views of Solitude and the movies will no longer be the same.
By the time I reached the ending (a type of this event also occurs in Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus, but with much more impact here), I could do nothing but breathlessly close the book and sit thinking...and thinking...
Dissertations could be written about this novel.
Much more (and better) information can be found in Bookslut's interview with Steve Erickson, as well as his recent appearance on The Bat Segundo Show. There are also many more links to other articles and interviews on his site.