“Stylishly written, very funny.”
“A glorious romp.”
— Will Ferguson
“[Like] Charles Dickens at his exuberant best.”
— London Free Press
THE RESURRECTION OF MARY MABEL McTAVISH
Faith healers, movie moguls, and social-climbing fraudsters collide in Depression-era Los Angeles…
It’s the Great Depression and Mary Mabel McTavish is suicidal. A drudge at the Bentwhistle Academy for Young Ladies (aka Wealthy Juvenile Delinquents), she is at London General Hospital when little Timmy Beeford is carried into emergency and pronounced dead. He was electrocuted at an evangelical road show when the metal cross on top of the revival tent was struck by lightning. Believing she’s guided by her late mother, Mary Mabel lays on hands. Timmy promptly returns to life.
William Randolph Hearst gets wind of the story and soon the Miracle Maid is rocketing from the Canadian backwoods to ’30s Hollywood. Jack Warner, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Rockettes round out a cast of Ponzi promoters, Bolshevik hoboes, and double-dealing social climbers in a fast-paced tale that satirizes the religious right, media manipulation, celebrity, and greed.
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“Stratton’s expertise at black comedy is very much in evidence in this novel. His ability to make extraordinary events seem somehow plausible, combined with his mastery of wit and language, leaves us shaking our heads at one moment, and laughing out loud the next. Like many a modern humourists, Stratton’s real talent lies in his honest – and sometimes grisly – depictions of human foibles, coupled with a recognition of how easy it is to slip over to the dark side.”
— Quill and Quire
“Like some of the great comic novels — Catch-22, for example, or M*A*S*H* — this one gets its humour from its characters… This is a stylishly written, very funny historical that has some smart things to say about the mass media, about manufactured phenomena, and about religious nogoodniks.”
— Booklist (USA)
“A glorious romp of a tale featuring a chorus line of characters high-kicking their way across the stage. Religious flimflammery, movie moguls, Hollywood hustlers and dust bowl dreams have never been so fun.”
— Will Ferguson, Giller Award-winning author of 419.
“If Flannery O’Connor had one day slathered on the pancake, decided never again to say “excuse me,” and set out to write a biography of Aimee Semple McPherson, she might have come up with The Resurrection of of Mary Mabel McTavish. Two-bit evangelists, legendary press barons, perfidious headmistresses, and adolescent miracle workers rampage through Allan Stratton’s new novel, a Southern Ontario gothic that crackles with wicked fun. It’s hilarious and it’s evil: vintage Stratton.”
— Bill Richardson (Stephen Leacock Award winner for Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast)
“Stratton’s sparkling story is a frolic, full of mischief and mayhem… A tongue in cheek romp from beginning to end, a chronicle complete with clever one-liners, hilarious sendups and a cast of characters reminiscent of Charles Dickens at his exhuberant best.”
— The London Free Press
“A skewering of society, especially its religious structures, official pomposity and hypocrisy, with its emphasis on money and the eternal grasping to get it at any cost. Little escapes Stratton’s machine-gun-peppering.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“Stratton’s comedic examination of celebrity in a bygone era shows that media frenzies are in no way a uniquely modern phenomenon, nor is the way the people at the center of these frenzies are often helpless to prevent their public images from being molded to suit the great and powerful, the ambitious and the brazen opportunists. As the plot weaves back and forth across Canada and America, celebrities from Hoover to Hearst are skewered, but at no point does the book lose sight of its essential good nature or that of its protagonist.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Allan Stratton obviously had big fun writing this Depression-set story about a charismatic (maybe) healer… In the process of telling his story, Stratton rips into every social organization he can think of: organized religion, naturally, the press, celebrity culture, private schools. Hollywood gets a savage skewering when William Randolph Hearst tries to get Jack Warner to make a movie of Mary Mabel’s life… It’s all pretty entertaining. And Mary Mabel is a great character. Inspired by visions of her dead mom, she can be a bit batty, but she’s smart enough not to believe everything she’s told and wise enough to be wary of the fame coming her way.”
— NOW Magazine
Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, longlist
The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish is a comic romp set in 30s Hollywood and small-town North America about a young woman who claims she’s raised the dead. Jack Warner, W.R. Hearst, J. Edgar Hoover and the Rockettes round out a cast of Ponzi promoters, Bolshevik hoboes, tent revivalists, and double-dealing social climbers in a fast-paced tale that satirizes the religious right, media manipulation, celebrity and greed.
Mary Mabel McTavish is a drudge worker at The Bentwhistle Academy for Young Ladies (read Wealthy Juvenile Delinquents). She happens to be at the town hospital when little Timmy Beeford is carried into emergency, the victim of a freak accident. Timmy was electrocuted at an evangelical road show when the metal cross on top of the revival tent was struck by lightning. He’s pronounced dead. Believing that she’s guided by her late mother, Mary Mabel lays on hands. He promptly resurrects.
Miss Bentwhistle, Mary Mabel’s employer, is not only The Academy’s founder and headmistress, but the sole surviving member of one of the county’s leading families. Fearing that this Holy Roller sideshow will create a scandal, she insists that Mary Mabel deny the supernatural; surely the boy was just unconscious. Mary Mabel refuses to deny her mother’s gift, and is fired. Destitute, she is an easy mark for the evangelists, who hire her to front a healing ministry. They plan to set up fake miracles. Their ace is that Mary Mabel, believing in her ability, will be able to pass on-stage lie detector tests concerning the legitimacy of her magic touch.
The Hearst press gets wind of “The Miracle Maid”, and soon Mary Mabel is news across the continent, a controversial star whose healing ministry sells papers by providing hope to the Depression’s hopeless. The Hearst reporter assigned to cover her, K.O. Doyle, is very aware of the byline rewards of successful puffery, and of his boss’s insecurities. Now in his seventies, William Randolph Hearst fears mortality. Death stalks his dreams, whispering, “You own the world, but I own you.” A young woman who can bring back the dead, well… In collaboration with Jack Warner, Hearst plans a musical bio-pic based on the resurrection as a vehicle for his gal pal, Marion Davies.
As for Miss Bentwhistle, her social position has long been a fraud, her late father having lost the family fortune in the Crash. All she has left are revenues from The Academy, and a gift for deceit. When her school is burned to the ground by a disgruntled English teacher, Miss Bentwhistle is bankrupt. Not to worry. She pockets The Academy’s endowments, packs a bag of paste jewelry, and heads to Los Angeles where she passes herself off as the Baroness Bentwhistle, “come to thaw and revivify in this City of Angels.” Soon she’s a rotating house guest among Hollywoodland’s nouveau riche.
It’s only a matter of time before our characters, lives reinvented — resurrected — reconnect in the Dream Factory, where truth is marketed in strips of celluloid.