A Handbook of American Prayer
A man walks into a bar. A dispute ensues, and the bartender kills him. He's sentenced to ten years for manslaughter. In prison, the convict, Wardlin Stuart, writes prayers addressed to no god in particular. Inexplicably, his prayers — whether it's a request for a girlfriend or a special favor for a fellow inmate — are answered, be it in days or weeks. When his collection of supplications, A Handbook of American Prayer, is published by a New York press, Stuart emerges a celebrity author. Settling into a new life in Arizona, he encounters a fundamentalist minister. The two are destined for a confrontation. In the interim, it seems that the god to whom Stuart has been praying has manifested himself on the earth. In this short novel about America's conflicting love triangle — celebrity, spirituality, and money — Shepard negotiates the thin line between the real and the surreal, expounding upon violence and redemption along the way. This story of an unlikely American messiah shows why The Wall Street Journal has compared Shepard, an award-winning author, to Graham Greene, Robert Stone, and Ward Just.
Lucius Shepard (1947–2014) was an American writer. Classified as a science fiction and fantasy writer, he often leaned into other genres, such as magical realism. His work is infused with a political and historical sensibility and an awareness of literary antecedents.
Brief biographies are, like history texts, too organized to be other than orderly misrepresentations of the truth. So when it's written that Lucius Shepard was born in August of 1947 to Lucy and William Shepard in Lynchburg, Virginia, and raised thereafter in Daytona Beach, Florida, it provides a statistical hit and gives you nothing of the difficult childhood from which he frequently attempted to escape, eventually succeeding at the age of fifteen, when he traveled to Ireland aboard a freighter and thereafter spent several years in Europe, North Africa, and Asia, working in a cigarette factory in Germany, in the black market of Cairo's Khan al Khalili bazaar, as a night club bouncer in Spain, and in numerous other countries at numerous other occupations. On returning to the United States, Shepard entered the University of North Carolina, where for one semester he served as the co-editor of the Carolina Quarterly. Either he did not feel challenged by the curriculum, or else he found other pursuits more challenging. Whichever the case, he dropped out several times and traveled to Spain, Southeast Asia (at a time when tourism there was generally discouraged), and South and Central America. He ended his academic career as a tenth-semester sophomore with a heightened political sensibility, a fairly extensive knowledge of Latin American culture and some pleasant memories.