This inquiry underlies two rather mesmerizing novels, Dennis Must’s “The World’s Smallest Bible,” and Joan Chase’s 1983 “During the Reign of the Queen of Persia,” in a new edition from New York Review Classics. Both books portray children in mid-20th century rural America, places only a couple hundred miles apart on the cusp of suburbanization and demographic change. And both are searching books about people trying figure out the puzzle of existence while being watched upon by the overbearing monsters of death and sex. With little plot in either novel, there is rather a heightened sensory experience—a debt the authors owe to Faulkner—a lush world to breathe in instead of merely to read about.
Cleaver Magazine

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He’s a searching writer, able to transcribe madness and instability, the wrack of obsession and the weariness of giving in. Reality, in Must’s hand, is always flirting with the abyss and this gives his prose…an expansiveness and wonder, quite beyond the ordinary. —Dactyl Review

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The World’s Smallest Bible is an impressive work of literary fiction that chronicles the life of Ethan Mueller, over a span of 43 years, as he ponders the mysteries of life and death, and whether it is even possible to tell the difference between the two. —Historical Novel Society

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In a small Pennsylvania mill town haunted by World War II, two young boys lie awake each night discussing the ghosts in their room. They are Ethan and Jeremiah Mueller, and it is through their eyes that we discover the fantastical world of Dennis Must’s The World's Smallest Bible. —Shelf Awareness

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Told in startling, poetic language, The World’s Smallest Bible is an ode to the power of the imagination, as two boys in a Pennsylvania town during WWII sustain each other with stories and fabulist visions. Their struggle with the real world—the war, teachers, their parents—runs though The “World’s Smallest Bible” like an obbligato. Dennis Must skillfully combines the narrative momentum with lyricism resulting in a novel of extraordinary grace and originality. 

Thaisa Frank, author of Heidegger’s Glasses, Enchantment, A Brief History of Camouflage, and Sleeping in Velvet


In this darkly comic Bildungsroman, Ethan Daugherty, initially plagued by several manifestations of moral evil—both imagined and real—comes to understand one indisputable existential truth:  The restrictive confines of place—in this case, Hebron, Pennsylvania, toxic in practically every respect—can maim the soul, kill the human spirit.  Reminiscent of Zola, “The World’s Smallest Bible” brilliantly demonstrates that for all one’s attempts, whether ignoble or noble, to escape one’s seemingly appointed lot, the only way out may be the grave.

Jack Smith, author of Hog to Hog, founding editor of GHLL.

Jack Smith, Pleiades Book Review 2015



What a wild and wonderful trip “The World’s Smallest Bible” is. It’s like Sherwood Anderson territory glimpsed through the prism of Kafka’s consciousness. The story’s at once otherworldly, yet also very much of this world, the world of ‘bang and blab’ as Roethke puts it—the feverish fluctuations between the two elements I see as a cardinal strength of the work. And the storyteller’s neighbor’s unsuccessful perpetual motion machine seemed to me a potent symbol/metaphor of all our tangled hopes, aspirations, audacities, fears and obsession; it is utterly fascinating with all its physical oddities and contrarieties, embodying something important to us all.

—Geoffrey Clark, author of Two, Two, Lily-White Boys, Necessary Deaths, Wedding in October, and Jackdog Summer

The World’s Smallest Bible” is that too rare and beautiful combination of a literary novel that is also a page turner. It somehow manages to be narratively ambitious, while the writing comes across as effortless. “The World’s Smallest Bible” is an excellent book. An enormous pleasure to read, and a novel I'd recommend to anyone.

—Rob Roberge, author of The Cost of Living, Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, and More Than They Could Chew


Illustrations by Rostislav Spitkovsky




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