Amaya Engleking, poet, Gospel Isosceles: Advanced review for the novel, Brother Cobweb


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

Advanced review for our novel, Brother Cobweb (Catherine Swan Reimer Ed.D., Counseling Psychologist, PhD)

“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. His book is a gift to not only the reader but to the one who shares his beautiful soul evolving in the light.”
— Catherine Swan Reimer Ed.D., Counseling Psychologist, PhD

*Chapter 8 illustation Todd M. Coe

Novena News’ advance review for our novel, Brother Cobweb

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 that 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.

Novena News, Mada Jurado

Early Review for our novel, Brother Cobweb by Jason Pannone

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, Reference & Cultural Assets Manager, East Hartford Public Library, art curator.

Early review for our novel “Brother Cobweb,” by Fr. Justin Belitz OFM

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 raised by 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!

Fr. Justin Belitz OFM

Early Review for the novel Brother Cobweb by author Cheryl Townsend

Opening with the ranting of a Pentecostal preacher into the mind of seven-year old Calvin Elkan, who in lieu of attention, creates art in a drawing pad as his derrière numbs atop a hard pew. A caricature of near monster features, Brother Cobweb is born, a minister of pseudo-satanic lunacy.


Growing up in a blue collar home with a younger, innocent brother, his over-worked, typical father, religiously crazed mother, and beacon of sanity and hilarity great-grandfather, Calvin is juxtaposed to creativity and suppression as the mother battles for his sinking soul against anything not in praise of God. Might I add that those battles were truly such. Abusive, spiteful and manipulative, mother Nancy was “Carrie’s” mother to the nth degree.


Needless to say, great-grandfather “Pop” (an atheistic Jew) is the comic relief in this drama. Calvin, still grappling with what to believe, is steadily leaning alee from the absurd. The ensuing disgust of his my-way-only mother is simmering like the fires of Hades. Bonding through music and creative imagination, Pop and Calvin sequester solitude in a bedroom off limits to the tyrannical mother.


When Pop passes, there is no safe place for Calvin. The abuse intensifies, as even his passive father defers to Nancy’s rages. But there is music. Sweet movements to quell. Savage beasts be damned!

Making it to art school, with scholarships, Calvin is instructed to study the predecessors of his preferred era. Professor Hillcrest nurtures. Calvin learns and flourishes. After a final attack from his mother, he moves out, barely surviving on meager wages. Life feels hopeless, he succumbs to despair.


Finally finding his niche with a group of artistic friends, Calvin gets into a gallery and begins a new phase of life. There is a woman whom he begins to hang out with and eventually relents to marrying her out of her bad home life. But it’s not for him. She is not the one.


Always there are men of religious beliefs that filter in, good or bad, to steer him. A life of subjugation renders him easily persuaded, but he does hold fast to his anti-stance against any holy rolling, tongues spewing ravers, welcoming the company of two Catholic priests.


Revelations surface, secrets expose themselves, attempts to rectify are extended. Calvin finds his soulmate, his place, and his release. As happy as such a life can be expected, there is a resolved ending. A hip hip hurray with even a resounding amen!


Snips of theological insight, musical and artistic education are an added bonus to an engaging read that should assuredly make you think hard on your own spiritual path. When and if Calvin creates his own church, I hope one comes nearby.


Cheryl A Townsend is a poet, photographer, and previous editor/publisher of Impetus/Implosion Press and owner of cat’s Impetuous Books. 

*Early unused cover art for the novel by Todd M Coe

Early Review for Brother Cobweb by artist/author Michelle Moore

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 that 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 of two poetry chapbooks: The Deepest Blue (Rager Media) and Longing for Lightness: Selected Poems of Antonia Pozzi Translated from the Italian (Poetry Miscellany Press). My poems, interviews, and reviews have appeared in many publications, including Commonweal, Heavy Bear, Apalachee Review, Black Dirt, Rattle, Penguin Review, and White Ink: Poems on Mothers and Motherhood published by Demeter Press.

*This is early, unused cover art for the novel by Todd M. Coe

Early Review for Brother Cobweb by Keith Banner (Author: “The Life I Lead,” “The Smallest People Alive”)

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 is the co-founder of Visionaries + Voices and Thunder-Sky, Inc., two non-profit arts organizations in Cincinnati.  He is a social worker for people with developmental disabilities full-time and has taught creative writing part-time at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) for over 20 years.  He has published three works of fiction, The Life I Lead, a novel (Knopf, 1999), The Smallest People Alive (Carnegie Mellon Press, 2004), a book of short stories, and Next to Nothing (Lethe Press, 2014), his second collection of stories.  He has published numerous short stories and essays in magazines and journals, including American Folk Art Messenger, Other Voices, Washington Square, Kenyon Review, and Third Coast.  He received an O. Henry prize for his short story, “The Smallest People Alive,” and an Ohio Arts Council individual artist fellowship for fiction.  The Smallest People Alive was named one of the best books of the year by Publisher’s WeeklyNext to Nothingwas nominated for the Lambda Literary Award in 2015.


*This is Todd M. Coe’s early, unused cover art for the novel

Ealy review for the novel “Brother Cobweb” by Jonathan Montaldo (co-editor of “Soul-Searching: The Thomas Merton Story”)

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

(note: this is an early, unused cover art of the novel by Todd M. Coe)


BROTHER COBWEB, The Novel by Alfred Eaker (April 12, 2020 Open Books Press)

Brother Cobweb

Alfred Eaker

All Calvin Elkan has ever wanted to do is escape his mother and her Pentecostal church, the Lighthouse. Calvin is eternally at odds with the brutal abuses and ignorance of his upbringing in a right-wing evangelical sect in Ohio. Under the guidance of his great-grandfather, he turns to art and music to escape his mother’s blows and the grip of the Lighthouse. He spins the dark world around him into a satirical comic called The Brother Cobweb Chronicles. After high school, Calvin moves out and enrolls in art school, finally free of his oppressive childhood home.

But after a brush with death, Calvin realizes escape isn’t enough.

Through his artwork and a newfound sense of spirituality, Calvin works through the emotional trauma and distances himself from his past only to uncover yet another ugly secret from the Lighthouse—a secret that makes him question everything.

Brother Cobweb is a coming-of-age saga with a misfit, paradoxical artist at its center. Alfred Eaker’s debut novel seeks to change perspectives through innovative language, dark humor, and marginalized subculture. A surreal and provocative odyssey, it is sure to strike a nerve as it exposes the abuses and hypocrisy of an all-too-familiar Midwestern evangelical church.

    • Our Price: $18.99 + $3 S+H for one or more copies in continental US. Contact us for school and book club discounts.
    • Print ISBN: 978-1-941799-74-1
    • eBook ISBN: 978-1-941799-75-8
    • 310 pgs – 6 in. x 9 in. matte paperback
    • Publication Date: April 12, 2020
    • Pre-Order your copy today!
      • Open Books Press

Order with Square

About the Author

Alfred Eaker, author

Alfred Eaker has been obsessively working on his first novel, Brother Cobweb, for the last five years and, off and on, for a quarter of a century. Additionally, his first eighteen years were spent in a ho-de-ho, backwoods, sawdust on the floor, wooden pews Pentecostal Church in the Midwest. In other words, Eaker’s been working toward this novel his whole damned life.

In his career as an artist, Eaker’s work has been paradoxically labeled as degenerate, orthodox, heterodox, modernist, mystical theology, provocative, academic, and blasphemous. Indeed, blasphemy is a language that Eaker seems to speak fluently, even when he doesn’t mean to, and he’s been doing it through painting, performance art, independent film, and film criticism for three decades.

Oh, and he has a few degrees in theology and art.