, Salem, MA

May 2, 2014

Book Notes: Salem author publishes novel about imaginative brothers

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — Dennis Must left a career in the church to write plays and fiction, but he continued to wrestle with life’s big questions.

In his recently published novel, “The World’s Smallest Bible,” two young brothers are trying to figure out how to deal with the world.

“It’s the boys essentially growing up, and confronting on their own the sense that the adults are not giving them too much time or direction,” Must said. “The adults are unable to abide living with their sense of mortality.

“The mother is constantly putting her hopes in the hereafter, in heaven, while the father finds relief in alcohol and women.”

The novel takes place during World War II, and there are constant reminders of death as young men from the neighborhood perish in the fighting.

While the boys — Ethan and Jeremiah — work out their relationships to their parents, they find answers to the meaning of life in their imaginations.

They share elaborate ghost stories at night, play music together, and learn to weld sculptures.

“Children don’t suffer from being trapped, they imagine their way out of it,” Must said. “That’s what these boys do to transport themselves.”

Must, who like the characters in this work grew up in Pennsylvania, said that his work is “close to the autobiographical bone.”

He now lives in Salem, has written three earlier works of fiction, and has another novel coming out this fall.

He enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary after college, but had a crisis of faith, and eventually moved to New York in the late ’60s to teach school and write plays.

The latter were “highly experimental,” mixing other media with dramatic performances to break down the boundaries between art and life, immersing the audience in the production.

“The World’s Smallest Bible” bears a trace of this practice in more than 20 drawings that illustrate the text.

“I thought the manuscript lent itself to illustrations,” Must said. “And given that we as a society are moving toward a more visually oriented one, I sought out Rostislav Spitkovsky whose work I’d seen online.”