Page 5


slidden,” a term for those once saved by God but since lost to bad behaviorin this case, because he smokes and doesn’t attend church. Wilson is also occasionally sent to stay with her father’s father, a half-Native American former fisherman dubbed Chief. Chief is unreligious, but believes he can converse with dead spirits, both awake and in dreams. Shuttled from place to place, young Wilson learns to keep quiet and follow orders. This works fairly well until Wilson’s uncle, Archie Don, goes missing just as another shrimper on Archie’s boat is mysteriously shot dead at sea. Chief enlists young Diane to help him track down what turns out to be Archie Doris corpseand then his killernearly getting her killed in the process. If Wilson had wanted a more plot-heavy version of Holy Roller, she could have started the book with the dynamite sentences that kick off Chapter 5: “Murder in a fishing town is like the day before a hurricane hits. Everybody knows it’s gonna be a terrible tragedy but they can’t help feeling excited.” From here, the book picks up its pace considerably, but if Wilson had begun here, the reader would have missed 50 pages of context. As it is, the first major event in Holy Roller is the arrival of missionaries. This introduces us to the titular Church of and gives readers an initial taste of the young protagonist’s bewildering world. A visiting preacher works himself into a lather glorifying the missionaries, whom he describes as “flaming torches in darkest Aferker … laying their lives under a sharp hatchet so those heathen folks over there can get a chance to be washed in the precious blood of the lamb just like me and you here tonight” Then, inspired by the Holy Ghost, the visiting evangelist “started running around the altar with the Bible up to his chest, then stopped and slammed the Bible on the altar like he just whacked an escaping roach. Somebody hollered, leesssus’s blood blood blood blood.:” Two young women get up and start singing about Jesus, but after a minute, “the first sister slumped over and down came the second sister, WHAM WHAM. They were slain in the spirit. Collapsed in the abiding arms of the Lord. But to me they just died. Dead as a hammer.” These multihour worship services are the only place where such Holy Ghost-inspired theatrics and behavioral extravagances are permissible. The rest of Wilson’s life is emotionally sparse, alternating between boredom and fear, hiding and working. A cold mayonnaise sandwich is a rare delight. Such deprivations, to which Wilson is acclimatized by accident of birth, are culturally reinforced by the demands of her community. According to the Church of Jesus Loves You, things that can keep you out of heaven include “tobacco in all its forms, secret societies like the Masons, life insurance, doctors, medicine, liquor, dance halls, theaters, movies, Coca-Cola, public swimming, professional sports, beauty parlors, jewelry, church bazaars, Christmas trees, and the entire idea of Halloween.” Add to that list being rich, reading books, and worshipping as a Methodist, a Baptist, or a Catholic. Luckily or not, most of these lifestyle options weren’t avail Wilson’s second memoir opens with 9-year-old Diane in bed with her two sisters, squished up against the window, scratching a message into the paint of the sill. The message is, “I will see Jesus in three months.” able to the impoverished members of the Church of Jesus Loves You, which tended to affirm poverty as a virtue. “At the beginning of the Pentecostal movement, around the 1900s, they were all extremely poor people,” Wilson recently told me. “It was like they were so on the fringes of America, and a lot of these places, they were barely surviving, so they had a great disdain for the part of society that excluded them. So they had their own religion, and one of the main things about it was that even being rich was one of the things that would keep you out of heaven. The Bible says what is first now will be last then and what is last now will be first thenthat was a big, big deal. Especially with the rapture. That was like, any moment, it’s gonna happen. It could happen at supper, it could happen that night, we were gonna float up out of our shoes. And the people that weren’t going to make it were going to be the people who had all the stuff:’ More recently, Wilson says, the church has evolved along with its constituents’ socioeconomic standing. “It’s changed completely from my childhood,” she says. “Now God’s gonna make you rich. Before, being rich was gonna keep you out of heaven, and only the really poor of spirit such as we were gonna make it. Now, God’s supposed to increase you tenfold. … I read a comment one time that God doesn’t invent people, but people invent God to be whatever we are. Now, it’s about being rich and powerful, and war, war, war. Now we’ve invented God to be very rich, powerful, and warring. If you’re not rich, its because you didn’t have enough faith.” Here Wilson is referring to a particularly disturbing passage in Holy Roller wherein Grandma tries to raise her son Delbert, Diane’s uncle, from the dead. Delbert had suffered a self-inflicted rifle shot to the chest and is clearly expired, but Grandma just knows that if her faith is sufficient, he will be restored. “Grandma shoved the creeping mass of hysterical girls out of the kitchen where Delbert was laid out on the table and she wedged a chair against the doorknob and waited on Jesus to work behind the scenes. Jesus told her to pray for life, even OCTOBER 31, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21