In Graham Guest’s novel Henry’s Chapel we watch a film by proxy, through the eyes of a narrator who offers a play-by-play account, complete with probing analysis, of Albarb Noella’s Lawnmower of a Jealous God. Within this unusual frame we encounter the story of an isolated family in rural East Texas, a tragicomic tale of incest, abuse, mental illness and liberation. As meta-narrative and narrative merge into one another, the film’s characters, its director, and implicitly the narrator and author themselves all become significant figures, while the film itself becomes both an immersive if ghostly medium and a distanced object of critical inquiry, its meaning and being inseparable from the metafictional organism that contains it. The final product is a kind of narratological incest heretofore unexplored.
“Woven, imagined, projected out of, and fashioned in the shell of itself, Henry’s Chapel is a Mobius strip of a book, an experimental take on the Southern novel. It is a relentlessly interrogative and quite literally irreverent family story: the immaculate conception is an ‘incestuous conception’ after all for ‘the Bible entails incest: it’s incest all the way down.’ The Judeo-Christian creation myth is the Ur pattern, the mythopoetic DNA of the dysfunctional family. Graham Guest simultaneously studies, psychoanalyzes, and literary-critically harries this story, dialectically undoing his own novelistic embroidery, melting down and then re-using types without (somehow) undermining verisimilitude. This is a whirling read, dizzying, uneasy, and smart.”
—Miranda Mellis, author of Demystifications