The World’s Smallest Bible

Written by Dennis Must
Review by Nancy J. Attwell

The World’s Smallest Bible is an impressive work of literary fiction that chronicles the life of Ethan Mueller, over a span of 43 years, as he ponders the mysteries of life and death, and whether it is even possible to tell the difference between the two.

Ethan is nine years old in 1942 when his mother escorts his six-year-old brother, Jeremiah, into his bedroom and charges him with his younger brother’s care. Ethan happily accepts this responsibility and introduces Jeremiah, whom he calls Popeye, to the rivers and ghosts in their room. As the boys grow up in the bleak mill-town of Hebron, Pennsylvania, they observe that the townsfolk, including those in their own family, escape their depressing existence by retreating into an alternate reality – unless they die.

Instead of moving linearly through time, or even flashing back to various memories, Ethan tells his story topically, viewing the same time periods of his life from different angles. This format works well, except on those few occasions when the boy’s speech seems too sophisticated for a child. That one flaw aside, this is a powerful story that leaves a lingering feeling of hopelessness long after it ends. Fortunately, the melancholy is mitigated somewhat by the charm of the enduring brotherly love. This is a challenging, thought-provoking, and worthwhile book.