Roland Merullo’s Driving Jesus to Little Rock, fits neatly on the shelf with his other beloved, quirky-spiritual books: Golfing with God, American Savior, Vatican Waltz, The Delight of Being Ordinary, and the Buddha trilogy (Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner)-a list that has sold over half a million copies and been widely translated. This time, the narrator, Eddie Valpolicella, is on his way from Massachusetts to Arkansas to give a talk on “his” novel, Breakfast with Buddha, when, not far from home, he picks up a mysterious hitchhiker. Plainly dressed, insisting that he’s a fan of the author, the hitchhiker claims to be Jesus, the Jesus, and accompanies Eddie on a five-day road trip that challenges him in an amusing variety of ways.
Every night on the way south, Eddie calls home to speak with his wife, and Anna Maria’s fiery insistence on choosing trust over suspicion gradually pushes him out of his original cynicism. Jesus plays tricks appearing and disappearing, changing shape, vacillating from stern teacher to affectionate friend-and Eddie, confused, suspicious, and wrestling with his own preconceived notions of spirituality, only very slowly realizes that he’s being given precious guidance in the art of living.
As he did in his other road trip adventures, Merullo manages to walk a tightrope by raising deep philosophical questions without sounding preachy. The author provokes readers to think about life while also making them laugh and providing them with a boots-on-the-ground view of America. This journey includes wealthy Russian businessmen, poor Appalachian deer hunters, South American spirit guides, and tours of places as seemingly disparate as a therapeutic massage studio in Lower Manhattan, the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and Thomas Merton’s Gethsemane monastery in rural Kentucky. Along the way there are meals and drinks, wrong turns and intriguing scenery, all brought into focus beside the book’s utterly original yet strangely believable Jesus.
Driving Jesus to Little Rock
by Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979-80)