“Artists have the uncanny ability to recognize the beauty in challenging and difficult life experiences. This is exactly what Alfred Eaker has done with this novel. Calvin is born into a dysfunctional and abusive family. His lone confidant is his grandfather, the only member of his family to understand and support him, and the one who passes on an appreciation of art and music. It is Calvin’s skill and understanding of the fine arts that gives him the strength to move into a stable and productive adult life.
“Interwoven into the story are psychological, theological, ethical, and religious dimensions that call organized religion as well as social and moral structures to accountability. These deeper aspects of the story will challenge readers to reflect on their own lives and to develop the empathy we all need to make our lives ever better and better.
“This story has motivated me to review again the Mahler Symphonies!”
—Justin Belitz, OFM
“Alfred Eaker's story is a harrowing tale of violence, abuse, lies, and conflict—yet it ends in hope. There is redemption: in art, beauty, friendship, love, and God, where, in the midst of sin and the wreckage of life, the light of grace pours abundantly through the cracks and crevices. Eaker's control of the language and emotional power carries the reader through to the place where the peace that surpasses all understanding dwells. Highly recommended.”
—Jason Pannone, librarian, East Hartford Public Library
“Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb is a great example of a whole-hearted Bildungsroman—a novel that finds humor and a little horror in the coming-of-age story of Calvin, an artist living in an evangelical universe that constantly enthralls and disgusts him. Eaker writes about Calvin’s journey with up-close panache, and a sort of Pop Art irony fused with newfound faith. By the end of Brother Cobweb, you have insight not only into what it means to be free of a religion you don’t need, but also what it feels like to find an actual spirituality that can carry you through.”
—Keith Banner, O. Henry Prize winner, author of The Life I Lead, The Smallest People Alive, and Next to Nothing, and co-founder of Visionaries + Voices and Thunder-Sky, Inc.
"A true American horror story! A must read!"
—Ernest Stewart, managing editor, Issues and Alibis magazine
"Brother Cobweb—Pentecostal Zombies with a bizarre twist of abstract adventures afford our protagonist, Calvin, the realization that speaking blasphemy as a second language can be a whole lot of fun."
—Joan Jeffries and Michele Dawn Saint Thomas, authors
“I first encountered Alfred Eaker's work through his contemporary Catholic paintings.
“They undoubtedly set my expectations up for some sort of direct, colorful explosiveness in his writing from his debut novel, Brother Cobweb; a novel he has worked on for over twenty-five years. Instead, I was blown away by a naked prose, devoid of superfluous ornamentation, that submerges the reader into the darkest of themes.
“Make no mistake, though; as a gifted artist, Eaker knows how to use boldness and tone to weave a claustrophobic, violent reality that will trap you in a cast almost exclusively populated by increasingly sinister characters from a Midwestern Pentecostal church. He masterfully portrays the spiritual disintegration of evangelical abusers in a way that will lead you to offer them heartfelt absolution and forgiveness. Sublimely, Eaker takes you where he needs you to be. As the horrors intensify, a ripping epiphany begins to unfold against the canvas of the story: what doesn't lead to breaking the cycle of violence will only perpetuate it.
“And here's where the real talent of his artistry shines as Eaker draws a very personal spirituality of individual liberation and redemption through responsibility, which includes accountability of across-the-board religious abuses—from Mormonism to Pentecostalism and Catholicism.
“He shows us how, even in the most horrendous physical and emotional situations, we can all tap into our inner self, and find within ourselves the means to stop spraying our poison onto others or punishing them for the pain we feel. His words contain such a direct and brutal message that it's impossible to remain indifferent; you'll feel the same raw energy and transforming power as a gaze from any of his painted portraits. Art at its best.”
—Mada Jurado, Novena News
“Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb is a portrait of Pentecostal crazies that could populate a short story by Flannery O’Conner. The book’s main character, Calvin, survives religious hypocrisy and a mother’s physical abuse with the help of a tolerant, benevolent great-grandfather, the real hero of this tale of crooked lines whom “God” fails to make straight. The novel is a roller-coaster of highs that drop forward and lower quicker than they ascended. No easy, happy endings to this well-told, fast-paced story about the role of “God” in freakish human experience. Eaker’s novel draws a complex picture of religion in which the Weird is graphically made flesh.”
—Jonathan Montaldo, co-editor with Morgan Atkinson, Soul-Searching: The Thomas Merton Story
“Dark humor at its bleakest. The tragic life of a child reared in an overzealously religious house, his mother, a freak of Pentecostal piety and brutality. Brother Cobweb is an artist’s escape, his split-caricature-personae, starting at victimized age seven to survival adulthood. Haunting visuals, even without the mastery of illustrator, Todd M. Coe.”
—Cheryl A. Townsend, poet, photographer, and previous editor/publisher of Impetus/Implosion Press and owner of Cat's Impetuous Books
“Alfred Eaker's Brother Cobweb is a unique coming-of-age story that explores religious fanaticism, childhood powerlessness, the reverberating effects of abuse, and other influences the shape the adults we ultimately become. A tale of resiliency, reconciliation, and redemption, with plenty of ass-kicking and comeuppance along the way, Brother Cobweb is a powerful account of self-discovery that will resonate with readers long after the final pages . . .”
—Michelle Moore, artist and author, The Deepest Blue and Longing for Lightness: Selected Poems of Antonia Pozzi Translated from the Italian
“Terrorists, usually thought of as enemies of a country, can also be found within families who have access to terrorize a helpless child daily. A child is defenseless and depends on family members for their very survival for emotional, physical, and spiritual needs in their human development. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to integrate these abuses that cause post-traumatic shock, similar to what veterans suffer. Alfred Eaker describes how abuses caused by one of his primary caregivers, learns to survive. In his book Brother Cobweb, Eaker describes Calvin’s daily trauma and how he chooses creative means to escape the horrendous abuse on a young psyche. The book is full of surprises, intrigue, and courage of a young boy who despite odds of becoming like his abusers ascends above cruelty and allows his artistic gifts to become the saving grace that touches the integrity within to lead the way to his wholeness and inner growth. Eaker’s book is a gift to not only the reader but to those who share the evolution of their souls.”
—Catherine Reimer, Ed.D., Counseling Psychologist
“As with his surreal and mystical paintings, Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb portrays both the beauty and the horrifying distortion in the search for self-identity and purpose, all while having been deeply entangled in the swampy roots of a kitschy, hamburger-helper, ‘slut-for-Jesus’ brand of Pentecostalism. And Eaker makes us laugh. A lot. After all, there’s no point in sitting through a holy ghost-inspired three-hour episode of Sunday evening service if you can’t add a few ‘wtf’ guffaws to the caterwauling. But be sure to chew your minty fresh ‘Testamint’ first!
“The true gift of Cobweb, however—apart from the gratifying interludes of musical abstractions, for the novel has more (and better) music recommendations than a hipster in a vinyl store—is our young protagonist, Calvin Elkan’s sense of religious adventure. While the typical post-modern hero would rationally turn one’s back on God and religion after suffering abuses and hypocrisies in their name— receiving accolades from the world while cloistering oneself in a bubble of unimaginative atheism—we get to experience the faith journey through the thoughtful artist spirit, which is a more rewarding story. In order for there to be divine justice, moral atonement, and maybe even hopeful happiness, Eaker invites all sincere wayfarers to consider a revelation of Calvin’s: ‘The Church needs me more than I need it.’
—Amaya Engleking, poet, Gospel Isosceles
“Brother Cobweb is a haunting tale of perversion set within a Midwestern Pentecostal community. We follow as young Calvin Elkin navigates an acrimonious sea of motherly loathing. Early insights only partially explain his mother's cruelty. Later revelations prove more inflammatory for herself and fellow parishioners. Through it all Calvin finds refuge in art and in a few significant relationships. His eventual salvation follows a staggering confluence of art, spiritual exploration, day-gig kismet, and love.
“For many, intimacy is a paradoxical experience, where attraction and repulsion share the same psychological territory. One senses such a struggle in Calvin as he battles to break free. He finally moves on, physically and emotionally, but how does he now relate to others? What is the nature of intimacy for him now? Brother Cobweb gives us a lot to process. After parsing its dramatic storyline, I found myself pondering these latent subtexts.
“Author Alfred Eaker presents Brother Cobweb in a relatively detached manner, considering the content. This tone tends to understate the story in a way that amplifies its impact. It is a horror story, but it's a self-reflective one, with a darkly humorous, and ultimately triumphant outcome.”
—Carla Knopp, artist, CarlaKnopp.com