This is Robert Coover’s first novel; it came out in 1966. The copy I read was pulled from the library stacks and is a first edition, with a nondescript front cover in brown, with the picture of the white bird you can see in other covers from other editions. This novel begins in a kind of present tense, seeing the quote from my title above, at what becomes a human sacrifice for a religious cult in an unnamed state, but is seemingly the coal mining country of Pennsylvania or New York.
The novel begins with this scene and then goes on the show how this event is being covered by local news media, being attended by group members old and new, and is the culmination of all the events of the group having been predicted and now is being called the end of days.
And so the novel then goes back and begins again prior to a cataclysmic mine explosion that kills 97 men in the night shift. The only survivors are Giovanni Bruno and a white dove that was being used for gas detection. The resulting pairing of Bruno with a woman named Eleanor Norton, a local housewife who has apocalyptic and messianic visions, created the groups identity and function of a Christian doomsday cult.
Going into the novel I would have thought this was going to be a kind of Thomas Pynchon romp, and even having read other Robert Coover, I might make the same assumptions. But it’s not. It’s not exactly straightforward, but it’s about as straightforward as I could imagine of the awakening of a Christian religious cult.