He stands at the podium, staring at the crowd. The auditorium is filled. For a time he says nothing, raising the anxiety levels of all who are watching him, waiting for him to speak, not the least his father, sitting in the front row.
He has a prepared text, and still he says nothing. His thoughts are filled with his parents, the boys he knows at his Brooklyn school, the expectations of the audience. It’s as if he senses this may be the most critical moment of his life, that everything that will happen to himself, his family and possibly the world will flow from this one brief moment. He allows the pages of his text to flutter to the floor. He begins to speak, and what he speaks is a prophecy of the end-times, the apocalypse.
Flash forward 25 years, and Josiah Laudermilk owns a computer store near the beach in Southern California. He’s divorced but just possibly still in love with his former wife. His mother died from cancer from some years before; his father still lives, by himself, in Brooklyn. Josiah has gone about as far as it’s possible to go from that moment of prophecy at the podium, which, as it turns out, was inaccurate; the world didn’t end in 2000. His father is seriously ailing, and Josiah returns to Brooklyn.
What he finds is himself. What we the readers find in Scott Cheshire’s High as the Horses’ Bridles is a first-rate novel of 21st century America, with its failed apocalyptic prophecies and its stories of sons trying to understand and both become and not become their fathers.
In the hands of a less-skilled writer, the story could have become a caricature of evangelism and fundamentalism in America. Instead, Cheshire uses sensitivity and understanding to tell a story that ultimately becomes all of our stories, all of our American stories. He takes us beyond what could have been only a morbid fascination with child evangelists. We end up understanding the child and the man the child becomes, and understanding the father.
High as the Horses’ Bridles is many things happening on many levels – a story of contemporary religion, a love story, a father-and-son conflict story. But it is first an honest story, a story filled with our common humanity. And because it is that it succeeds far beyond what we might expect.
Photograph by Maliz Ong via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.