A young woman’s life is controlled by her Zen Buddhist master in this debut novel about spirituality and sexual power.
Nicole is having an affair with her Zen master. He spies her, a damaged spiritual seeker, in his Boston Zendo, “pretty in a half formed way,” and he begins to groom her to abandon her sense of self while he takes advantage of her naiveté. She has a troubled past, and she goes to the Zendo in search of a connection that he is happy to abuse during their backroom private sessions. Nicole is haunted by guilt from her Catholic upbringing and a harsh secret involving her past as a teenage runaway; her master uses this to wrap her around his finger. “You are mine,” he tells her. “No other teacher will want you, once you have been shaped by my instruction.” Though her master makes a point of distancing himself from the patriarchal structure and rules of Catholicism, Nicole—who once wanted to be a nun and who rebelled against a strictly religious mother—is drawn to his firm commands. Even when she wants most fervently to escape him, her body responds to his voice “like church bells, like the smell of incense.” Their sexual relationship lasts a decade. “They were teacher and student, very old, accustomed friends; [yet] each time he let his hand travel up her skirt, the shock was fresh.” When Nicole realizes the relationship is too controlling and tries to take some liberty by moving away, making a new friend, and finding a new Zendo, her master creeps his way into her new life. He finds her and forces her hand: Abandon life as she knows it to be rid of him, or submit and be his.
Not quite a spiritual thriller but a thoughtful exploration of faith, surrender, and ecstasy.