by Jon Katz ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 2, 1999
Katz, a much-published writer of mystery novels and nonfiction (Virtuous Reality, 1997, etc.), prematurely assays the genre of spiritual autobiography. In the spring of 1997, the author purchased a mountain cabin in the upstate New York town of Cambridge and lived there for six months. His purpose was, in the relative solitude of rural New York state, to uncover new goals and meanings for his life, which had become stultifyingly routine in his (unspecified) suburban New Jersey town. An understanding wife and daughter consent to the temporary separation, though the three remain in close touch throughout by phone. The spiritual guide for this mountain sojourn is Thomas Merton, who supplies, in Katz's interpretations, a sometimes sad, middle-aged wisdom and with whom the author carries on imaginary conversations. (Katz's original intention had been to write a Merton biography.) Merton's counsel, to seek the spiritual in life's small everyday details, informs these pages, which counterpose accounts of cabin renovation, mouse removal, and well-digging with autobiographical reflections on childhood, family, career, friendship, and solitude. Katz is at his wry and winsome best on the material side of rural life, such as the critical home services provided by ""big men in big trucks,"" or learning to turn on the new well. But both Merton and the reader might wonder what constitutes the oft-cited spirituality of these reflections. Katz offers several definitions of the spiritual life--human-relatedness, happiness, self-discovery, openness to change--that seem more new-age than anything a Trappist monk might recognize, and that never wholly solidify. Accordingly, the authorial self that emerges as having attained to spiritual life is unfocused, awkwardly striding the never-resolved contradictions between responsibility and freedom, familial love and self-love, humility and self-praise. This suburbanite author's self-deflecting appreciations of rural life appeal, but his spiritual ruminations should have been allowed quietly to mature a few years before finding their way to print.
Pub Date: March 2, 1999
Page Count: 224
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998
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