In 1917, two girls and a borrowed camera went into a garden in Cottingley Village, Bradford, England, and created a sensation that would last until the late 1970’s. In our jaded modern times, we would expect those images to involve horrific sexual selfies (two girls, one cel camera). However, during the last awful months of horrific World War One, these cousins captured the innocence of Fairies. A series of sticky-sweet black and whites showed winged, playful, Maxfield Parrish-style Tinkerbells interacting with humans, caught on film for the world to see. Many wanted to believe it true. Who wouldn’t, when humanity around you is burning and blowing up and screaming and dying?
“The Atheist’s Prayer,” by Amy R. Biddle, takes us on a darkly amusing journey into the world of fairy believers, and the lengths they’ll go in an effort to better the world. This time, the action is in California, and rather than two young cousins innocently photographing the flitting ones, we have two young kids eating shrooms and communing with the fairy realm.
Don’t blame the children. There are groups of believers, Polymoirans, who go into a forest, and leave in bodybags when the authorities discover their bodies lying peacefully in circles. No black Nikes, no kool-aid. Just a firm belief in the fairy realm, a good bye note, and a blood toxicology that explains their deaths. Luna, the girl of the pair, has a mother who is a 100% vested believer. And a lunatic. The young boy, Kevin, has a single mom who’s a Sunday school teacher with a firm faith in God and a penchant for relationships based on sex with losers.
Ms. Biddle starts the books with snapshots of her characters. I LOVE the way she builds each person, giving us bits and chunks, like glancing through a family album and seeing a person come to full form in quick, definable hits. She develops her characters as if they were real people, which is one of my biggest problems with modern fiction: lots of plot, but very little character. She really fleshes them out. Kudos.
The main character is a funny, boozy and druggish loser (Kevin’s mom’s latest paramour). Then there’s this snarky but good hearted drug dealing stripper. Several strange but believable minor characters continue the weave of story that leads to a pretty cool ending.
“The Atheist’s Prayer” has a weird title. I get it, as you will at the end of the book, but I don’t think it’s the crux of the story of misguided love and drug-addled leaps of faith, and instead of hinting, it misleads. But, you have to call a book something, and “Drug Induced Suicidal Fairy Cults and the People Who Love Them” doesn’t exactly pop, ya know?
This book feels like a short story. However, the novel length is fine because the journey is worth the read. It’s got some nice, humorous moments, a touch of tension, and a delightfully dry voice that doesn’t guild any lilies. I quite enjoyed this simple read.