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Born too late – by about 750 years

A medieval reenactor runs off to Europe and gets carried away in this dark and richly comic debut novel.

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All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well By Tod Wodicka Pantheon 266 pp., $21.95

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Burt Hecker is a holy fool – or he would be if he hadn't had the misfortune to be born 750 years or so too late. The 60-something widower is a medieval reenactor, who wanders around in a robe and sandals and refuses to consume coffee, French fries, or chocolate because they're "OOP" – out of period.

"The world is riddled with far worse activities and I altogether refuse to even feign embarrassment, especially at my age," he announces at the beginning of Tod Wodicka's impressively imaginative debut All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well.

After a run-in involving police, a borrowed Saab, and too much mead, Burt is enrolled in a medieval music-therapy workshop in lieu of anger-management classes. The chanters, Burt included, head off to Germany on a pilgrimage to celebrate the 900th birthday of anchorite nun Hildegard von Bingen. And that's just the first chapter.

You see, Burt isn't ever planning on returning to the inn he and his wife own in upstate New York. Instead, he's liquidated everything and is on a quest to reunite with his grown son, an early music prodigy he believes is in Poland studying folk music.

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