…The book’s success — and it does succeed — lies in Burrell’s ability to see the power of Elvis’s personality and talent as well the ridiculous humanity that marked his life (fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches) and his death (a substitute corpse made of wax and sightings of Elvis, post-passing, at the donut shop). It also succeeds because Burrell’s Elvis, like the Elvis I cannot but hear, is Dead Elvis. Burrell sees the horror in all of this, in the tragic death of a man at the early age of 42, in drug abuse, in fan-culture’s blind obsession with popular figures, and in the dangers of religious devotion itself. It’s from these dark strands that The Land of Grace weaves its darkly hilarious tale of Elvis religion….
…In The Land of Grace, Burrell delivers a genuine page-turner that is both funny and disturbing….
….The Land of Grace is hard to characterize, at once a critique of religious faith, a comic romp through the weirdness of Elvis culture, and a horror story in which death and resurrection aren’t so much an Easter miracle as a recurring nightmare. It works as well as a book to pack for the beach as one to curl up with on a dark and stormy night. Indeed, it’s itself a little bit like Elvis in that sense, a little bit “Blue Hawaii” and a little bit “Blue Moon”.
…Burrell’s first novel skillfully combines the macabre with the clownish. On the one hand, the cult, as portrayed here, is utterly ridiculous, as it’s essentially a maniacal fan club that transforms its members’ celebrity crush into a rhapsodic spirituality. Everyone in the cult plays a theatrical role, drawn from Elvis’ real life, in a laboriously staged effort to replace the disappointment of cult members’ reality with one of imaginative fantasy. “And our King lives,” one character says. “Not just in our hearts but in the flesh. We see him onstage every week.” However, the author tempers the humor with descriptions of the group’s ghoulishly nefarious practices, including kidnapping and murder; teenage girls are compelled to sleep with “Elvis”—or his troop of apostles—as a rite of purification, and the resident physician, Dr. Nick, is revealed to be a known sexual predator. That said, Burrell’s story can also be marvelously subtle, as the whole narrative hinges on the differences between Mama’s crazed idolatry of Elvis and Doyle’s own lifelong fandom. In both cases, the legendary performer is seen as a source of meaning and solace—a fount of spiritualized hope. Overall, the book artfully asks probing questions about the basic human need for mythology of whatever kind and about the point at which the tensile cord of innocent fascination snaps.
An intoxicating tale that’s simultaneously gaudy and exquisite.
It’s almost impossible to put down this roller coaster ride through the land of an insane Elvis cult. Doyle Brisendine, encountering a cast of unforgettable characters, soon discovers how close his dreams lie to his nightmares in this impressive and compulsively readable novel.
~Naeem Murr, Winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best Book in Europe and South Asia, 2007; Long Listed for the Man Booker Prize, 2006.
Land of Grace is a terrific comic novel, a kind of Confederacy of Dunces for the Elvis crowd. Beneath the pompadour and the flashy jumpsuits and the great good humor of its prose, there’s remarkably serious commentary here: about our desire for fame, our culture of celebrity-worship, and how personal identity does (or does not) survive the intersection of those devouring forces. This book succeeds on many levels.
~Pinckney Benedict, author of Town Smokes (stories); The Wrecking Yard (stories); The Dogs of God (novel); Recipient of The Nelson Algren Award; Britain’s Steinbeck Award.
Land of Grace begins as a comic romp, a lark, pleasing and goofy….But slowly Burrell’s humor becomes darker, then vanishes altogether. These people are in deadly earnest.