The Buddhist lessons of impermanence and letting go are folded into a contemporary urban story of drifters and their teachers in this sweet novel by Guy (The Autobiography of My Body, 1990), a contributing editor to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.
Jake and Hank could be any slightly down-at-the-heel guys. Sleeping at the Cambridge YMCA, enjoying the beer (and the barmaid) at funky Charlie’s Tap, the two roam the city streets like old friends, fresh in town after a summer repairing bicycles in Maine. Only Jake, who loves his sweets, is a 78-year-old Buddhist teacher, and Hank, a recovering sex addict, his disciple. And while Hank thinks their visit is the usual annual migration, Jake slowly lets on that he’s letting go. Alzheimer’s, or something close, is claiming his famous concentration, and while he’s at peace with the process, he has some final lessons for Hank, for his longtime student Madeleine and for a confused, buxom young barmaid named Jess. “If you want to study the ineffable, it’s right in front of you,” says Hank, who narrates the simple story. At times, Guy lays on the folksy delivery too thick, but the conversational first-person narration draws the reader in, as does the eminently likable Jake, with his relish for everyday pleasures. After years of practice, he seems to have reached a higher state in which “his whole life was a vacation,” but one he doesn’t mind ending. Minor complications involving past relationships and parenting play out as the tale draws to its calm conclusion.
Guy’s flawed hero Hank is struggling with big issues. The conflicts are both gentle and genuine, and readers will root for the appealing pilgrims.