Sunday, April 26, 2020

Marie Mutsuki Mockett's "American Harvest"

Marie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of a novel, Picking Bones from Ash, and a memoir, Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye, which was a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Harvest depicts the one time I visit a mega-church while on the road. The book details a five month long road trip I took with a group of custom harvesters who cut wheat in America, beginning in Texas and continuing to Idaho. The harvesters are Christians who attend church each Sunday--I go with them. And on page 99, the character Juston has suggested we go to a mega-church in Oklahoma which has long intrigued him. I'm curious about anything and everything that makes up the world of the harvesters, and so I go too. We've missed the in person appearance of Pastor Craig, who has numerous franchises around the country; as a result of this, his sermons are always recorded so they can be beamed into the sanctuaries of the branches of his church. On page 99, we are getting the heart of his message that day, just before he does his rapid fire closing speech to get us to be part of his congregation.

I can't say that this page encapsulates the book; it is a small part of the book's experience. It is true that a big part of the book is in trying to understand what evangelical Christianity is--and what it is in America--and if anything about this experience is valid. But while that is one question the book asks, it's really only one facet of a much larger lens. So, no. I don't think it's a great idea to turn to page 99. But I also don't think this page could have been excised, because the mega-church is an American cultural phenomenon and it would not be appropriate to talk about Christianity in the US without at least mentioning mega-churches and how they function and what they do and why people go.

The driving question behind American Harvest was: why do my friends in the city who want to eat organic food also believe in evolution, while conservative Christians believe in Creationism and farm GMOs? When I put this question to the main character, Eric, who is a farmer and a Christian, he told me my question was really about the divide in America. So while I set out on the road to look at farming, God, atheism and US history, I was asking broader questions about the divide. And I was also asking if it was possible, through conversation, to bridge that divide. We have numerous tough conversations in the book that address the concept of the divide pretty head on. And those conversations, I think, are the driving force behind the book. But it's also just a great road trip through some beautiful country filled with coyotes and cowboys and tornados and resplendent sunsets and men who make deadly machines work for our benefit.
Visit Marie Mutsuki Mockett's website.

--Marshal Zeringue