In this incredibly imaginative debut novel, Tommy Zurhellen fills the literary void between Jonathan Goldstein’s Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible (which presents a new take on the Old Testament) and the Left Behind series (which takes on the Book of Revelation and the tribulations contained therein) with a fresh look at the story of Christ. This time around, however, Christ is raised in a small town in North Dakota, and his name is Sam. What’s more, an elephant has escaped from a traveling circus, the town’s corrupt sheriff has just passed away, and a young rabble-rouser named Jan is making trouble on the banks of the Little Missouri with talk of the imminent arrival of a prophet.
Nazareth, North Dakota, however, does far more than offer an updated version of the New Testament. Rather, by transplanting the story of Christ to a contemporary setting, Zurhellen moves his readers from the somewhat two-dimensional realm of the iconic to a complex world of competing motivations, fears, hopes, and desires. In other words, he humanizes the story of Christ and, in so doing, manages to tell one heck of a tale that’s as much about the complexity of living in the modern world as it is about reinventing the icons of Christian tradition. All of this is to say that Nazareth, North Dakota isn’t just clever. It’s also an engaging and compelling read — an excellent book from a promising new voice in literature.*
-Review by Marc Schuster