The main character, Hazel, is a highly unlikeable young man who suffers from a sort of religious mania, but he doesn't want there to be a Jesus, so, working against his own conscience and destroying himself in the process, he starts a church without a church and spends his incredibly miserable life trying to convince himself and others that Jesus Christ doesn't exist. He encounters some of the saddest, most disagreeable characters along the way, including a con artist/preacher of sorts and his damaged daughter, as well as a depressive young lunatic named Enoch, whose sole purpose and highest honor in life, apparently, is to own his own gorilla suit (I think).
Everybody in this novel sucks: the waitresses, the cops, the landlady, the security guard at the zoo, you name it. There's not a single redeeming character in the mix. Nevertheless, this novel is interesting--like a train wreck or a house fire or a pile up on I-10.
Perhaps the following quote from chapter 10 about sums things up: "Where you come from is gone, and where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it."
I'm sure literary critics have had a field day with this one, and rightfully so. It's an interesting novel about deeply flawed human beings, and the first thing I wanted to do when I turned the final page is take a shower.
SIDEBAR: Apparently John Huston made a film version, which may well the greatest movie ever made, but not much could persuade me to watch it.