Books by Frank Schaeffer

Released: May 7, 2014

A faith-oriented autobiography with an unconventional approach.

"All we have is our stories," writes novelist Schaeffer (Crazy for God, 2008, etc.) in this entertaining, energetic new memoir. He follows through on this point by filling his book with story after story, all told with the clarity and catchy pacing of a born raconteur. There are tales of his wry, wisecracking mother; his wife, Genie; his grandchildren Lucy and Jack; and his friend, the artist Holly Meade, whose unexpected death, he writes, "broke through my innermost protective layer of denial." There are more complex reminiscences about his life as a professional writer; among his many books is the quite good 1992 novel Portofino. But the stories that cast the longest shadows are those about his straight-laced religious upbringing as the son of evangelical missionaries. At one point, he confesses, a bit ruefully, that "[m]yth or not, I sometimes like the result of my parents' delusions." Fairly early in life, he abandoned strictly conformist religious attitudes, and after "fleeing the evangelical machine," he embarked on a broader, more ecumenical inquiry into the nature of faith and spirituality, which fills much of this new book. Interwoven with his personal stories, he sketches an appealingly open-minded and even paradox-embracing approach to nonbelief: "An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God," he writes. "I'm not that person. I believe and don't believe at the same time." The book is often plagued by the unavoidable vagueness that accompanies such philosophizing, but Schaeffer's essential levelheadedness always asserts itself to prevent excessive spiritual navel-gazing: "If we wait for correct ideas to save us—theological or otherwise—we'll never be saved, even from ourselves," he writes in a typically winning passage.

An intriguing, readable memoir aimed squarely at the post-faith modern era. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 2011

"Sweet and savory familial adoration."
In the third installment of the "God Trilogy," prolific novelist and nonfiction author Schaeffer (Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism), 2009, etc.) tells "the truth" about his mother's curious impartation of religion and sex. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2009

"The wisdom about shunning rigid thinking outweighs the meandering memoir and lack of original theme in this hybrid volume."
A meditation on the follies of religious and atheist fundamentalism. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2007

"Candid, sometimes angry and clearly cathartic for the author."
Interesting glimpses into the burgeoning religious right folded into a deeply personal memoir. Read full book review >
BABY JACK by Frank Schaeffer
Released: Oct. 10, 2006

"Any war deserves a better novel than this one."
The war in Iraq tears an American family apart, in a novel that suffers from cultural stereotypes, political polemics and a strange depiction of the afterlife. Read full book review >
ZERMATT by Frank Schaeffer
Released: Oct. 1, 2003

"An amiably diverting account of domestic chaos, but nothing more."
The last of a trilogy (Portofino, 1992; Saving Grandma, 1997), this set in 1966, about the mixed-up childhood of Calvin Becker, whose parents were missionaries working to save the Swiss. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2002

"Dramatic and laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully written and deftly constructed, deeply affecting in its honest portrayal of the authors' passions: a stunning achievement."
Father and son jointly relate their experiences when the younger man joins the Marines. Read full book review >
SAVING GRANDMA by Frank Schaeffer
Released: Aug. 1, 1997

In a sequel to Portofino (1992), Schaeffer offers an uneven, if sweet-natured, comic tale of a boy's struggle for independence from his often-loony missionary family. Fifteen-year-old Calvin Becker is burdened with two squabbling, goody-goody older sisters, a volatile, quixotic father who's often stricken by dark periods the family calls ``Moods,'' and an emotionally overwrought mother who instructs Calvin to pray for wet dreams so he won't be tempted to masturbate. The Beckers run L'Arche, a Calvinist Presbyterian mission in Switzerland; when the supply of converts runs low, they turn their attention to ``saving'' handicapped children from the home next door. Calvin's only friend, through all this, is Jean-Pierre, a French boy with cerebral palsy who shares with home-schooled Calvin a near-inability to read; Calvin's only true comfort, it seems, is spinning elaborate fantasies about Jennifer, the beautiful English girl he sees for two weeks every year when the Beckers vacation in Italy. Calvin's mom is always crowing about having rescued his father from a coarse, heathen, working-class background, so it's little surprise that when Dad's mean-tempered mother, who spews bad language, racial slurs, and blasphemy in abundance, breaks her hip and comes to stay, the family is thrown into an uproar. Unhinged by stress, Calvin's father manages to escalate an obscure theological dispute with a neighbor into a full-scale feud that almost gets the Beckers expelled from Switzerland. Just when the fracas has settled down, Grandma contracts pneumonia, and when Calvin, who aspires to be a doctor, learns that his parents don't plan to treat her, he smuggles veterinary penicillin to her and saves her life—creating a strange bond between the two and providing the catalyst for Calvin's realization that it's finally time for him to escape for keeps. Good material, though with jokes that are often overplayed and a scattered, episodic structure that slows the story's drive. Read full book review >
PORTOFINO by Frank Schaeffer
Released: Sept. 1, 1992

From the author of The Scapeweed Goat (1989): a pleasant, low- key comedy of manners about a family of fundamentalists and their hormone-driven son who vacation each year on the Italian Riviera. Calvin Becker, ten, has been vacationing at a pensione on the Riviera with his parents ever since he turned three. Reformed Protestants, his parents bicker ceaselessly with each other while they try to reform the European Roman Catholic world. Dad had ``a highly developed sense of personal grievance,'' and Calvin, along with his mother and two sisters, spends a good deal of time trying to gauge ``Dad's Moods.'' Set during 1962-65, the novel works largely as a picaresque as Calvin explores the town, makes friends, discovers the dual pleasures of drink and female companionship (mostly innocent), and walks a thin family line between sophistry and lying. The book is vivid with the things that Calvin sees and experiences: the yachts of the ``Very Wealthy,'' snorkeling (and, eventually, getting entangled by an octopus), the sights of the large hotels on the family's waterfront strolls, and, especially, the stories of the family's Prayer Charts and Sword Drills (the Bible is their sword) and long dining-room benedictions. Finally, Calvin rebels and refuses to carry his Gospel Walnut with him. He shoots a cat with his spear-gun, adopts a family of ``sadly lost Roman Catholics,'' and, reacting to love-interest Jennifer, begins to wonder how to hide his ``Little Thing'' when it gets hard—those tight Italian bathing suits, you know. Finally, though, after his parents discover his drinking, ``My wickedness brought the family back together.'' Sometimes contrived or predictable, but, overall, good-humored diversion: a wry coming-of-age tale with a few splendid laugh-out- loud moments. Read full book review >