A Breakthrough Novel
In taking on the writing of his compelling new novel, My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son (Addison & Highsmith, 2023) with its equally compelling subject matter, the gifted novelist and poet Joe Benevento has joined a sparse but distinguished recent tradition in Western literature. That is fictional work related to one aspect or another of Jesus’s life. Prominent examples include The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis (1955 in Greek, 1960 in English), and Barabbas by Par Lagerkvist (1950 in Swedish); Lagerkvist won the Nobel Prize for Literature the following year.
The focus of Benevento’s Christian novel is different from these predecessors. But to successfully retell even the most peripheral aspect of Christ’s narrative—and the Immaculate Conception is no peripheral matter—requires audacity (to be comfortable with such august, for many revered subject matter), faith (to be respectful of what are such cherished beliefs), and not the least talent (to make a story for which certain events are so well known fresh and riveting). Benevento, whose previous triumphs in literary genres range from the detective novel to the lyrical poem, pulls it off successfully in a way that My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son is an immediate candidate to be part of a global canon, (that ever changing and challenged one). By canon I refer to a tiny percentage of books may live on, not only in university and high school classrooms but even in bookstores. I highly recommend reading My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son as soon as you can.
The literary gifts on display here include one for characterization, a playwright’s knack for realistic and captivating dialogue, imagination in making the inconceivable conceivable, and perhaps most important (given the reader’s pre-knowledge of the plot) a sense of biographical pace that makes My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son a proverbial “page turner.” The plot may be known, but many more modest dramas within it, and how the psyches of the characters interact while they’re living with the inconceivable, are not. And in this regard Benevento’s feat borders on the astonishing. Rather than creating an alternate version to the very little public knowledge of St. Joseph that is available from the Bible and Catholic tradition, Benevento builds on the little that is known in a way that must have required a great deal of thought, awareness and research.
.Certainly some thinkers in the American Catholic world appear to be embracing this breakthrough work, and it’s not hard to see why. To humanize the Holy Family while also illustrating their uniqueness and, yes, miraculousness, I believe comes very close to displaying one of the great strengths of the historical Christian narrative: bridging the gulf between the divine and the human. It is the partly human nature of a Biblical figures like Jesus, even as an infant, that has enabled Him to speak so persuasively over the centuries. Benevento masterfully narrates a neglected and indeed unknown portion of Jesus’s singular life, and in so doing makes Christianity come to life amidst the many secular emphases of contemporary American life. What an achievement for the supposedly dying (as some are saying) art of writing!
Lee Slonimsky has published nine collections of poetry. His third book, Pythagoras in Love, has been translated into French by the poet Elizabeth J. Coleman, and is currently being translated into modern Greek by the poet Stamatis Polenakis. With his wife, Hammett- and Mary Higgins Clark Award winning novelist Carol Goodman, Lee has co-authored the Black Swan Rising trilogy. Lee is also a hedge fund manager who invests on behalf of the welfare and humane treatment of animals.