The Dirty Parts of the Bible
by Sam Torode
Kindle Edition & Paperback Available through Amazon
Product Description (from Amazon)
But being a Baptist preacher's son, he can't escape God.
When his father is blinded in a bizarre accident (involving hard cider and bird droppings), Tobias must ride the rails to Texas to recover a long-hidden stash of money. Along the way, he's initiated into the hobo brotherhood by Craw, a ribald vagabond-philosopher. Obstacles arise in the form of a saucy prostitute, a flaming boxcar, and a man-eating catfish. But when he meets Sarah, a tough farm girl under a dark curse, he finds out that the greatest challenge of all is love.
The opening paragraphs are shocking .. a description of his birth (or at least it has a lot of swear words) and the admission that he was an only child and that his parents had no more children after that – and his father loves winter because it allowed him to keep his passions under control. This book told as a sort of autobiography – of a nearly 20 year old boy on the brink of adulthood. While the boy has been raised in a “Christian Home” – his dad is a preacher, he still struggles with the desires of the flesh and his understanding of scripture. It is a walk in his mind, mulling through his questions of right and wrong and how society views life and the world, and as such, some parts are quite raunchy and quite crass and others will make you mad. Still others will make your heart ache with his struggles.
His father is a Baptist Pastor in a small town in Michigan. His parents have never displayed much, if any, affection for each other. But of course he’s a normal boy .. and you get inside a boys head as he describes his awareness of girls around him and his own development, or lack thereof. The first chapter is rather shocking. But you learn a lot about this teenaged boy on the brink of adulthood about to loose the girl of his dreams to the boy from his nightmares. Lars really isn’t that bad. But he is all the man that Tobias can only wish to be, especially as he’s about to marry Tobias’ girl.
The writing does often overdo the swearing and frank descriptions. Sometimes there are sentences that don’t quite make sense, and I spotted over a dozen grammar and typo errors. Still, the writing style did match that of a teenaged boy’s struggles with the world around him, especially as it was in 1936. I was surprised that one of the Amazon reviews said that they had chosen this book as a church book club read ... and the reviewer had been shocked and stopped reading at the end of the first chapter. Someone else had commented, “With a title like that, and the picture on the front cover, what else would you expect?” Indeed.
I kept reading though, I’ve always been fascinated by frank history, much more than sugar coated. And this story promised to be full of onions and garlic without a chocolate coating.
Tobias has always felt trapped in the tiny Michigan town of Remus, where his father has been the Baptist preacher since Tobias was three. He is an only child. He has many friends, but has never quite fit in with the others because his father is against everything fun (from a nearly 20 year old boy’s point of view).
One day, one of his friends shows him the Song of Solomon. And afterwards, church was a lot less horrible, as he could open his Bible and read these interesting parts while his father droned on about the evils of cards, drinking, and other sins. His father was also very pleased to see his son’s sudden interest in Bible study.
One night, after a fight with his wife, his father stopped at a bar for some apple juice and the bar tender gave him hard apple cider. And the preacher got drunk, wrecked his car, and was punished with blindness. He finally confided to his son that he had left behind a considerable amount of money in an old abandoned well back in his hometown where he grew up in Texas. He told Tobias how to find his uncle and gave him instructions and money for the train ride south.
By this time, I was 3 chapters in, and I wanted to know if Tobias made it to Texas, and I wondered if this story would match those of my elder relatives.
At first the train ride was a great adventure, but as he got use to the train, and being away from home, he got bolder. He tried a sleeping car ... and later adventured to find a motel, but the man who gave him instructions, directed him to a “house of women” instead. He ended up sleeping on the floor, and the girl stole all of his money.
Now he was in the Midwest, no money, and no way to get home, or continue on to Texas. He stumbles back to the railroad and there is taken in by an old ragged hobo – a big black man named Craw.
Craw takes him under wing and helps him jump his first train – which nearly kills Tobias. But by some miracle, he survives, but looses everything else he owns as his back pack is lost in the attempt. Food is scarce and adventure is high. Craw is full of surprises and cures for their problems. And there are many near death adventures (burning train cars, giant cat fish, and prickle plants to name a few) as they work their way south.
Once in Texas, Craw and Tobias find their way to his uncle’s ranch – where Tobias is welcomed as family by Aunt Millie and Uncle Wilburn. Craw is less than welcome, but is given a shed to bed down in, and food to eat, and together they work a job putting in a fence for some bulls, a job that turns out to be far harder than anything Tobias’s done in his life. But he settles into life on the ranch, and gets to know these relatives that he has never known and his parents have seldom mentioned.
Life is good, especially when he discovers that the only other person his age on the land is a girl – a gorgeous girl – with a hard edge and a curse. Every boy that has ever liked her has died.
The book now falls into the rhythm of ranch life, building the fences, morning chores, and trips to town to sell the garden and ranch goods. Tobias all but forgets about the reason he first came to Texas, and his heart is fast falling for Sarah. Tobias has a knack for getting into trouble – and Sarah has that curse to complicate matters. You won’t believe all of the trouble the two get into and get out of – sometimes with Craw’s help, and sometimes without. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to town, what a great adventure, and the family reunion had me chuckling as I remembered some of the ones I had gone to as a child.
When Tobias does find the money, not only does it nearly kill him, but the money came with an unexpected end.
I have read much worse books – and as books go, the story is quite believable. Growing up near the area in the book, I found the descriptions to be realistic. Also, since most of my maternal family grew up here, I’ve heard dozens of stories of their growing up in the Great Depression. Also, from those stories, I have heard many of the same objections to religion, comments on social issues (blacks and white) and how life was back then. I have more than one relative that could cuss just as well as any of the characters in this book. One Amazon review found the old folks hard to believe – but I don’t agree as my relatives would have fit right in with them.
I also found this to be an interesting walk through the mind of a teen struggling with thoughts of girls, religion, life, and love. Many times over the last few months, I’ve found myself considering the viewpoint of the young man and his choices and world view. It left me feeling sad, and with a better understanding of the struggle between the world and the Bible that our world faces.
I think what has made this book so popular is that so many people can relate to Tobias and his struggles with his flesh, with his understanding of religion, and growing up in general. It’s a walk in somebody else’s shoes.
Note: Not for younger readers at all. The author based this novel on stories told to him by his grandparents ... and is a retelling of the “Book of Tobit”, and old Jewish tale, but told in the era of the Great Depression.
Genre/Theme: Coming of Age, Historical Fiction (Great Depression)
Reading Level: Mature Teen/Adult
Sexuality: OBVIOUS - girls and sex are one of the main thoughts of this older teen boy.
OTHER: There are a lot of graphic descriptions in this book. Some of it is quite violent, and the life of a Hobo is told in stomach churning detail at times. Body functions are discussed several times, but in context, such as the boy’s search for a bathroom in a crowded city after a long overnight train ride. This book is written to mimic an autobiographical novel, written from an older teen boys point of view on life, adventure, girls, and his human heart and soul, it can be quite raunchy and extremely crass some of the time.
After a while, I became so engrossed in the story and the choices of the young man, that I failed to notice the language. It wasn’t until I skimmed it a second time for this review that I realized that it was much more prevalent than I remembered. The same can be said of the sexuality, as this is a teen boy, he is obsessed with hair and where it is located, and bodies of girls – among other things. The author did a fairly good job of sticking to wording of the King James as Tobias’s main source of knowledge was the Bible and a medical book he found in one of his mother’s drawers. Ironically, nobody really does anything until the last few paragraphs, when he takes his new bride out to a quiet meadow and discovers just what Solomon meant in his great Song of Solomon, on the other hand, he doesn’t hold back much describing Tobias’s feelings at every event.