Bible, Michael. “The Ancient Hours”, Melville House, 2020.
Religion and Violence
“Harmony, North Carolina is a typical town—full of saints and sinners you can’t tell apart…” In the past there have beenlynchings and shootings; mob violence and vigilante justice. The summer of 2000, however, was different.
In “The Ancient Hours, author Michael Bible looks at a tragic but all-too-American story of victims, witnesses, perpetrators, and the condemned who live, love and hate together. Southern literature has been filled with stories of religion and violence. Bible uses the horrors of that literature to bring us this story that begins with a group of men retelling the tragedy of Harmony.
One Sunday morning in 2000, Iggy, a disturbed teenager, walked into a service at First Baptist Church and poured gasoline on himself and struck a match. His friend Johnny ran to him as fire destroyed the sanctuary and killed 25 congregants. Somehow Iggy, Johnny’s s mother and a 4-year-old boy survived.
The novel then goes back and forth across time looking at family secrets, sexuality and social grids. Iggy narrates several chapters from his prison cell in 2006 where he awaits his death penalty and execution. His notes are the back story of the novel. He speaks about himself and his friends are outsiders and the things he did as a young man. The Baptists of Harmony sent him to rehab camp, where he was forced to repent and engage in fundraising for mission trips and it was with these that his idea of setting himself on fire came about.
We also have stories of others affected by Iggy’s crime. There are shifts between timelines and we see calamity in all of its forms. Could it be that the real guilt rests with those who run the church? Here we see outsiders searching for meaning in their lives yet thwarted in the name of religion. At its most basic, this is the story of the desire for family and what people are willing to sacrifice for the community.