As Taliban fundamentalists dynamited the Bamiyan Buddhas, with this book Reich blows up the Gospels. How can I, Judas possibly be described for the innocent? (And if you haven’t read it, you are innocent. Yeats’ “Second Coming” is so optimistic in comparison.) Romanian/New Orleans poet Andrei Codrescu wrote for I, Judas’s cover blurb: “This one’ll have you clenched in a fetal position for a century, relieved only by the occasional orgasms of its mellifluous prose. You have to be strong to read this book: it rains fireballs.”
It is the story of Judas, who pops up throughout the centuries like a bloody Forrest Gump, always being betrayed and betraying. He’s with JFK, Oswald, and Ruby in Dallas, where “jackals careened about the passenger door. Scarlet broth ran down her sunglasses. His back brace held him corseted to his cross, and the shot pealed again.” Judas tells us, “I slept rough in the red light district of Jerusalem and was often overwrought with nostalgia born of suffering. Scripture is nostalgia, and Judea was addicted to it.” The entire Holy Family is greasy and fallen in these pages: Jesus’s father was content to make crosses for the Romans because there was a chance that he might make the instrument of the death of his wife’s lover.
Don’t even think about turning to this book for cozy evening’s read. Yet Reich writes beautifully – I sometimes felt as though I was being sucked into a gruesome enchantment. It gave me a new and personal understanding of that old-fashioned word blasphemous. It is not, however, historical fiction. I’d recommend it instead for readers with a soft spot for iconoclastic and brutal prose poetry.