The yellow lights came on, flashing furiously, at the blurb describing Perri Birney’s, PURE VISION, The Magdalene Revelation: stolen ancient artifact…dangerous journey…legendary treasures…clandestine pseudo-Masonic group. Not another one, I protested, all 586 pages of it. I admit to having been addicted to such yarns in the pre-Da Vinci Code era, lapping up everything of the type, fiction and non-fiction from Holy Blood, Holy Grail to William Valtos’s La Magdalena, so overindulging that by the time Dan Brown’s tour de force came out, it was old hat. Now, post-DVC, any book paired with The Da Vinci Code or touting a similar storyline makes me buggy; my reading list is plenty long.
However, I am currently on a mission to taste all flavors of works labeled visionary, metaphysical, spiritual or any combination of thereof, aiming to sort out when and how these related genres are the same, similar, or different. And since I first encountered Birney through the Visionary Fiction Alliance, I felt I owed what her Amazon Editorial Review touted as an “epic novel with feminine echoes of The Da Vinci Code” a fair hearing. If nothing else, it might help in judging whether any of the ubiquitous DVC knock-offs of the breathless, globe-trotting, save-the-world variety might qualify as worthy Visionary Fiction.
A couple of disclosures here. First, as someone who knows the heroic task involved in producing a coherent first novel, especially such a lengthy one, I consider it a mortal sin to cast aspersions on the effort; worst case scenario, I’ll pass if I can’t say something positive. Second, I am a man critiquing a book whose primary audience is women; but I assume, just by being one of the rarer males in the visionary field, that women writers won’t object to having men read and appreciate their work (as long as we pay).
Don’t take me wrong. Pure Vision is no cronish feminist diatribe—several of its primary characters are men of intelligence and good intent—although it heaps ample, and deserved, disdain on the patriarchal paradigm that makes our world the violent, greedy and unbalanced place it so often is. Nor is the book all spiritual sentiment; Birney writes some mean action scenes with the requisite pounding hearts and footsteps, guns and bombings, blood and even a gory beheading; sufficient suspense and violence for those who crave that sort of thing. Also, featured along with mystical material from many of the world’s spiritual traditions are modern scientific threads (free energy, earth geometry, quantum physics) that ground its utopianism in practical possibility should we care to share rather than hoard the planet’s resources.
While reading Pure Vision, I thought of author Katherine Neville, whom I’d read with satisfaction pre-DVC. Unable to recall her titles, I checked on Amazon, only to take umbrage that one of my favorites, The Magic Circle, was thus described by Publisher’s Weekly: “Neville’s reach exceeds her grasp by a long shot in her chaotic third novel (after The Eight and A Calculated Risk), a bewildering attempt to blend historical fiction, New Age adventure and modern techno-thriller.” Was my taste or memory that bad? And yet the book, I noticed, has 195 four and five-star customer reviews against 89 one and two-stars. The Magic Circle did not get a Pulitzer, but Neville attracted plenty of attention writing in this genre. And that well before Dan Brown made it the “in” thing.
Beyond all the literary slicing and dicing, I read PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation with relish. It kept me turning the pages, meaning it was either teaching me something new or repeating things I needed to hear again. Most tellingly, all the way through I sensed the book’s beating heart: the resolute vision of peace, framed and sustained by its heroine, the Magdalene, and her army of women, marching from the four corners of the earth to create the new Jerusalem. Their effort is necessarily sprawling, messy and spontaneous, and often enough the book’s sequencing and loose ends reflect this dishevelment. Likely disconcerting to those habituated to the neat rationalism of categorization and division that has reigned supreme for millennia now—but how’s that worked out all around? Perhaps it’s time, to listen to the women, to allow the heart to pump blood to the bloated head. Pure Vision presents no detailed plan for world peace, but it gives the reader the feeling that it really is quite possible. That’s visionary.