High as the Horses Bridles

Scott Cheshire (Henry Holt and Company)

For thousands of years, a long and ignominious parade of prophets, preachers, mystics, cult leaders and charlatans have been predicting an apocalypse and the beginning of a new world for the chosen. The most famous apocalyptic prophesy was written in the first century in the Bible’s New Testament’s Book of Revelation. It’s the most controversial book of the New Testament: a frightening, gory, threatening warning filled with horses, swords, devastation and the second coming of Jesus Christ. 

High as the Horses’ Bridles, the debut novel by Scott Cheshire, is about what happens after a 12-year-old boy-prophet named Josiah Laudermilk delivers an impassioned apocalyptic sermon to a group of about 3,000 impassioned faithful. At first, Josiah is a star, but like the stars envisioned in the Book of Revelation, Josiah burns out and he becomes a “Jesus freak” to his classmates and neighbors. 

Most of the rest of Cheshire’s novel portrays his protagonist (now calling himself simply Josie) as he decides to reject his parents, his home and his faith. He moves to Southern California to start a new life. And it’s there that Josie realizes that the true “nectar of life” is not in some other world, but waiting for him in the here and now. Later, looking back on these changes, Josie remarks, “I figured that waiting for the end is the end.”

Cheshire, who was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness but has since fallen away from the faith, certainly knows this path firsthand. In fact, Cheshire’s experience as a door-to-door preacher most likely accounts for much of the evangelical tone of his novel. But High as the Horses’ Bridles is not simply a morality tale. In fact, the third and final section of the book is about an ancestor of Josie’s who visits a wild and wooly 19th century tent revival featuring an array of prophets and evangelists.

But the heart of Cheshire’s novel shows Josie as a man freeing himself from his past; it shows that you can go home again and find redemption. The novel is a victorious debut by a talented author who shows that the true nectar and happiness of life is not in the hereafter, but in the here and now.

Grade: A+

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