Resiliency, reconciliation, and redemption after Church abuse - Alfred Eaker's 'Brother Cobweb'

Resilience, reconciliation and redemption after Church abuse: Alfred Eaker’s ‘Brother Cobweb’

As part of our interest at Novena in all things books and religion, today we’re proud to present Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb, which will be published by Open Books this Easter Sunday, April 12.

In coming days we’ll be publishing our very own review of Eaker’s work, as well as an exclusive interview with the author.

For now, though, here’s some advance praise for Brother Cobweb, which early readers are describing as “art at its best”, a lesson in empathy and “a complex picture of religion in which the Weird is graphically made flesh”.

Mada Jurado, community manager, Novena News:

I was blown away by a naked prose, devoid of superfluous ornamentation, that submerges the reader into the darkest of themes.

A gifted artist, Eaker knows how to use boldness and tone to weave a claustrophobic, violent reality that will trap you in a cast almost exclusively populated by increasingly sinister characters from a Midwestern Pentecostal church.

And here’s where the real talent of his artistry shines, as Eaker draws a very personal spirituality of individual liberation and redemption through responsibility, which includes accountability of across-the-board religious abuses – from Mormonism to Pentecostalism and Catholicism. 

He shows us how, even in the most horrendous physical and emotional situations, we can all tap into our inner self, and find within ourselves the means to stop spraying our poison onto others or punishing them for the pain we feel.

His words contain such a direct and brutal message that it’s impossible to remain indifferent; you’ll feel the same raw energy and transforming power as a gaze from any of his painted portraits. Art at its best.

Justin Belitz, OFM:

Artists have the uncanny ability to recognize the beauty in challenging and difficult life experiences. Calvin is born into a dysfunctional and abusive family. It is Calvin’s skill and understanding of the fine arts that gives him the strength to move into a stable and productive adult life.

Interwoven into the story are psychological, theological, ethical, and religious dimensions that call organized religion as well as social and moral structures to accountability.

These deeper aspects of the story will challenge readers to reflect on their own lives and to develop the empathy we all need to make our lives ever better and better.

Jonathan Montaldo, co-editor with Morgan Atkinson, Soul-Searching: The Thomas Merton Story:

Brother Cobweb is a portrait of Pentecostal crazies that could populate a short story by Flannery O’Connor. Calvin survives religious hypocrisy and a mother’s physical abuse with the help of a tolerant, benevolent great-grandfather.

No easy, happy endings to this well-told, fast-paced story about the role of ‘God’ in freakish human experience. Eaker’s novel draws a complex picture of religion in which the Weird is graphically made flesh.

Jason Pannone, librarian, East Hartford Public Library:

Alfred Eaker’s story is a harrowing tale of violence, abuse, lies, and conflict – yet it ends in hope. There is redemption: in art, beauty, friendship, love, and God…

Eaker’s control of the language and emotional power carries the reader through to the place where the peace that surpasses all understanding dwells. Highly recommended.

Michelle Moore, artist and author, The Deepest Blue and Longing for Lightness: Selected Poems of Antonia Pozzi Translated from the Italian:

Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb is a unique coming-of-age story that explores religious fanaticism, childhood powerlessness, the reverberating effects of abuse, and other influences the shape the adults we ultimately become.

A tale of resiliency, reconciliation, and redemption, with plenty of ass-kicking and comeuppance along the way,

Brother Cobweb is a powerful account of self-discovery that will resonate with readers long after the final pages…

Cheryl A. Townsend, poet, photographer, and previous editor/publisher of Impetus/Implosion Press and owner of Cat’s Impetuous Books:

Dark humor at its bleakest. The tragic life of a child reared in an overzealously religious house, his mother, a freak of Pentecostal piety and brutality.

Brother Cobweb is an artist’s escape, his split-caricature-personae, starting at victimized age seven to survival adulthood.

Haunting visuals, even without the mastery of illustrator Todd M. Coe.

Amaya Engleking, poet, Gospel Isosceles:

As with his surreal and mystical paintings, Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb portrays both the beauty and the horrifying distortion in the search for self-identity and purpose, all while having been deeply entangled in the swampy roots of a kitschy, hamburger-helper, ‘slut-for-Jesus’ brand of Pentecostalism. And Eaker makes us laugh. A lot.

The true gift of Cobweb, however – apart from the gratifying interludes of musical abstractions, for the novel has more (and better) music recommendations than a hipster in a vinyl store – is our young protagonist, Calvin Elkan’s, sense of religious adventure.

While the typical post-modern hero would rationally turn one’s back on God and religion after suffering abuses and hypocrisies in their name – receiving accolades from the world while cloistering oneself in a bubble of unimaginative atheism – we get to experience the faith journey through the thoughtful artist spirit, which is a more rewarding story.

In order for there to be divine justice, moral atonement, and maybe even hopeful happiness, Eaker invites all sincere wayfarers to consider a revelation of Calvin’s: ‘The Church needs me more than I need it.’

Carla Knopp, artist, www.carlaknopp.com:

Brother Cobweb is a haunting tale of perversion set within a Midwestern Pentecostal community.

Young Calvin Elkin navigates an acrimonious sea of motherly loathing. For many, intimacy is a paradoxical experience, where attraction and repulsion share the same psychological territory.

He finally moves on, physically and emotionally, but how does he now relate to others? What is the nature of intimacy for him now?

Brother Cobweb gives us a lot to process. It is a horror story, but it’s a self-reflective one, with a darkly humorous, and ultimately triumphant, outcome.

To order Brother Cobweb, follow this link to the Open Books website

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Mada Jurado

Reporter and community manager at Novena
Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.
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