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A fiercely ecstatic tale of betrayal and self-sacrifice
Messiahs centers on two nameless lovers, a woman of east Asian descent and a former state prisoner, a black man who volunteered incarceration on behalf of his falsely convicted nephew, yet was “exonerated” after more than two years on death row. In this dystopian America, one can assume a relative’s capital sentence as an act of holy reform—“the proxy initiative,” patterned after the Passion.
The lovers begin their affair by exchanging letters, and after his release, they withdraw to a remote cabin during a torrential winter, haunted by their respective past tragedies. Savagely ostracized by her family for years, the woman is asked by her mother to take the proxy initiative for her brother—creating a conflict she cannot bear to share with her lover. Comprised of ten poetic paragraphs, Messiahs’ rigorous style and sustained intensity equals agony and ecstasy.
About the Author
Marc Anthony Richardson is author of Year of the Rat, winner of an American Book Award, and is the recipient of a Creative Capital Award, a PEN America grant, a Sachs Program grant, and a Hurston/Wright fellowship. He teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Messiahs is a fever dream of storytelling. It explores racism and interracial conflict, the deadly prison industrial complex, climate emergency, social death, and more in prose that unfurls like waves of sound. Bleak, though not without hope, challenging, though with numerous rewards along the way, innovative from start to finish, Messiahs is a marvel.”
—John Keene, MacArthur Fellow and author of Annotations and Counternarratives
“In Messiahs, Marc Anthony Richardson gives us an innovative, intelligent, and insightful take on several American obsessions, including punishment, incarceration, and the death penalty. As much as this layered narrative presents a warning about things to come, it also offers a profound examination of rebirth, redemption, second-acts. All in all an unnerving, uncanny, and challenging read on many levels, but well worth the effort.”
—Jeffery Renard Allen, Guggenheim Fellow and author of Rails Under My Back and Song of the Shank
“Messiahs is slim and so rigorously self-contained, and yet it has everything. The whole time I was reading it, I had a mysterious and lovely bell tolling in my head: Clarice Lispector, Clarice Lispector . . . and her questions of how do—can—we unselve? Empathy’s potentialities, and its limits, are constantly engaged in this book, and in this way, it goes beyond the excellent political commentary on the criminal justice system. At one point, Richardson writes that ‘sustained intensity equals ecstasy,’ and that is both the style of the writing and of the reader’s experience of this book: it sends you back to the first chapter as soon as you finish the last page.”
––Darcie Dennigan author of Slater Orchard and Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse
“In prose that’s Old Testament and an America that’s very reminiscent of Delany’s Dhalgren, two lovers are escaping pasts dense with family struggles and imprisonment. Messiahs is shorn to the marrow in language simultaneously ancient and futuristic, and every bit as Joycean as Dhalgren’s, which embodied the strange hell of the postwar 1970s as Messiahs does our present world. It’s a beautiful depiction of the human spirit against the faceless oppressive state, and every bit the heir to Kafka or Tarkovsky.”
––Grant Maierhofer, author of Flamingos and Drain Songs