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Rob Stennett's first novel, The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, is equal part dramatic fiction and biting satire. It is the engrossing story of a young real-estate agent's audacious plan to start a church and become its pastor, even though he doesn't believe in God or subscribe to any Christian faith. It is written in a meandering sort of way, akin to the storytelling of National Public Radio's This American Life. Indeed, more than once I found myself reading it with the voice of Ira Glass, the show's host, in my head.

For me, reading Fisher was like literary déjà-vu — the distinct impression that I was reading a story from great literature. That's because in some twisted way, I was. There's an uncanny resemblance, whether intentional or not, between Fisher's plot and characters and those of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Both main characters, Ryan Fisher and Rodion Raskolnikov, concoct a plan to commit a "crime" based on an irrational, unhealthy view of themselves as extraordinary men that sets them above the law and makes the end justify the means. Both men spend the majority of their respective stories trying to keep up appearances. Both characters have a dualistic identity that ultimately needs to be integrated into a unified whole. And both, in the end, have to face the music and reach a point of redemption: Raskolvikov heading off to Siberia for prison, and Fisher becoming a wash-up has-been (along the lines of Gary Coleman or Tonya Harding, as Stennett puts it).

Both books also place redemptive characters alongside their respective protagonist. As the soft, female voice of reason, Ryan's wife Katherine is somewhat the equivalent of Sonia Marmeladov. Katherine is the only person in the ...

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January 2009

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