America: God, Gold, and Golems Summary

America: God, Gold, and Golems Summary

This book is a compilation of all three installments of James Sturm’s historical fiction graphic novel trilogy: “The Revival,” “Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight,” and “The Golem’s Mighty Swing.” Each of these stories deals with a little-known event or time period in American history, intended to shed light on historical events while bringing them to bear on today’s modern era.

“The Revival” tells the story of a married Christian couple who are on their way to what would come to be known as the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801, a religious event that impacted enormous numbers of people on the American Frontier. Joseph and Sarah Bainbridge are traveling through darkness and hardship to reach their relatives at the revival, and along the way they come across a fellow pilgrim, an old man who looks nearly dead of illness. They separate good-naturedly, and Sarah speculates that the man doesn’t have long to live.

When Joseph and Sarah arrive at Cane Ridge, they meet up with their niece, Liza, who introduces her friend Fannie Partridge and tells the Bainbridges about Elijah Young, the revival preacher famous for healing the sick, who will be speaking the next night. That night, while Adam Prichard is preaching, Sarah falls ill, and Joseph starts hallucinating. The next day, before Elijah Young starts preaching, it is revealed that Joseph’s and Sarah’s daughter, Emma, died three days ago from a snakebite, and they brought her body to see if Elijah could bring her back from the dead. At the sermon, the Bainbridges recognize Elijah Young as the sick old man who passed them in the woods, but now he is full of life and energy despite his appearance. A young lame boy is healed due to Elijah’s intervention, but he declares that Emma will not rise again until Judgment Day. Sarah, in denial, takes the child back and screams at the Lord to bring her back, but to no avail. The next day, resigned to trust God, Joseph and Sarah decide to start a new life in Missouri.

“Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight” is a more sobering story about the terrible things men do out of greed. The story takes place in Solomon’s Gulch, a mining town in Idaho. Part I opens with a depiction of white men forcing the Chinese workers in the gulch out of the town, threatening and killing them until the mine was operated entirely by Americans. Years after this event, the story resumes with Ned Weeks, the nominal owner of the mine, at the funeral of his partner, Jem. He yells at Jem’s daughter, Althea, that her mother (Jem’s wife, Mae) has no excuse for missing her husband’s funeral, and he blames her for ruining the town. It is also revealed that Jem died in a fall that Dexter, a young chubby man who always gets picked on, survived.

In the mines, an old, frail man named Skinny collapses, and the men take him to Mae’s boardinghouse. In the mine workers’ nightly poker game, they discuss how little they know about Skinny, and then Weeks makes them a proposition about the money he owes them for their work: if they work harder and go further down in the mine, they will find enough gold to multiply their earnings. Grumbling, the men agree. While going through his things, Althea finds out that Skinny is actually incredibly rich.

In Part II, a doctor comes to see Skinny, who has begun to exhibit signs of a mental breakdown. Weeks stays inside by himself and drinks far too much, telling Dexter to tell him if anything happens he should know about. The doctor, who demands payment up front, says that Skinny is physically alright but mentally questionable, and he performs hypnosis on him. The story of Skinny’s wealth is a mystery, and it seems to be tied to a person named Iris. Whatever this mystery is, Weeks doesn’t want it getting out, so when Skinny starts telling the doctor about Iris, Weeks bursts in with a shotgun, killing Mae and wounding the doctor before shooting himself in the head. In the end, Dexter finds Skinny’s money, which Mae hid in her husband’s grave, and gives it to Althea, now parentless but really rich.

The final part of the trilogy, “The Golem’s Mighty Swing,” is the story of a Jewish baseball team called the “Stars of David” touring America in the 1920s. The narrator/main character, Noah Strauss, is the manager and third baseman, an older player with experience as part of the Boston Red Sox. He acts as the team’s coach and spokesman, and his younger brother Mo is another critical part of the team, one of their most consistent batters and probably their best athlete. They first drive to Forest Grove to take on the Spartans, whom they defeat rather easily, despite obvious bias in the umpire’s calls - Mo was nearly struck by an egregious ball that was ruled a strike. Dejected, Mo leaves the restaurant early and goes wandering the town, where he is harassed by boys throwing rocks. When he chases them, it appears that he will be arrested for causing havoc, but he actually ends up telling the townspeople stories about baseball and himself, parting on good terms.

Around this time, a publicity agent makes an offer to the team, saying that if their biggest player (a “Negro Jew” named Hershl Bloom) wore the costume of the Golem, a mythological Jewish creature that was dramatized at the time, it would increase their sales dramatically. Noah and the team refuse his offer, but when their bus breaks down in the next town and they don’t receive as much money as they expected, Noah calls him back and agrees to his terms. Lev, the drunk of the team, wanders off to a bar and comes back the next morning, clearly having been beaten (it’s implied that it was the opposing team, Putnam, that did it). He informs the team that Putnam has recruited Mickey McFadden, a legendary pitcher who hires himself out to the highest bidder, to play against the Stars.

With some trepidation, the team goes to their game. McFadden is a terrifyingly powerful pitcher, but Mo manages to score a run against him, making tensions run high. Hershl (as the Golem) strikes out two of the opposing players, then the next at bat (Cecil Rhoades, Putnam’s best hitter) hits a foul ball that Mo dives for, and the crowd pulls him up into the stands and steals his glove before throwing him back down. This gross injustice infuriates the team, and the Golem’s next throw is at the head of Rhoades. At this point, the game devolves into madness, and the Golem guards the dugout with his bat, where the team is holed up and hoping not to die from the violence of the mob. Thankfully, perhaps providentially, it begins to rain, and the rain continues unabated as the game is rained out and the angry people begin to leave to move their belongings to higher ground.

Ten years later, Noah Strauss comes upon another of Paige’s advertisements, this one for “Big Leagues vs. Hayseeds,” which was one of his teammates’ stories. He goes to the game, reminiscing about how Mo gave up baseball and got married. The game, unsurprisingly, is more about artifice and entertainment than actual baseball, and Noah is disgusted by what shameless marketing has done to the sport.

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