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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This first novel by twenty-four-year-old Travis Jeppesen stretches the mind and tweaks the funny bone. Victims sets up the reader to expect a sweaty story of adolescent love: two hormonally-advantaged students sneak about exploring life’s possible pleasures with glue to sniff and body parts to explore. The plot quickly morphs into a story about a modern religious cult, the Overcomers. The group’s Christ figure, Martin Jones, preaches a salvation of abandonment of this world in favor of a higher level of reality. He is the gnostic teacher who will lead believers to the Kingdom of Heaven with secret knowledge. Those who commit will be transported to the “Next Level” in a giant spacecraft, details to be provided later.

As the novel develops, Jones’s lengthy message of salvation proves to be accurate, but only in the sense of a double entendre. The chilly conclusion demonstrates the awful truth of his teaching. It embodies in irony the meaning of the book’s title, victims.

The book is quirky; the characters well over the edge. There is Tanya, reluctant single mother and convert to Martin Jones. There are three unlikely friends: Herbert, whose hunger drives him to eat the cult’s ceremonial goat and who frequently “falls down;” Howard, who lives in an isolated cabin surrounded by the leather-bound books which he has written and which nobody reads; and Ruphis, who appears to function as passive observer to the rest of the novel’s colorful characters.

Unfortunately the book may offend the sensitivities of those who prefer their light reading devoid of extended gross descriptions. It may annoy those who dislike lengthy discourses that do little to advance the plot. While not quite a “don’t miss,” Victims is still worth sampling.