ON THE ROAD WITH THE ARCHANGEL

A fable from one of the few writers of Christian fiction to publish in the mainstream press, more recently known for his ongoing spiritual autobiography, The Sacred Journey (1982), Now and Then (1983), and Telling Secrets (1991). Buechner's fable is based on the apocryphal book of Tobit, an account of early Judaism from the second century b.c., when the Jews were an enslaved people. Raphael, one of the seven archangels, narrates Buechner's gentle story with humor and frequent asides about the nature of the Holy One. Raphael's task is to gather up prayers and carry them to God, then carry replies back if replies must be made. This results in some extraordinary passages: the prayer of a dog, for instance, to better please his master, and that of a gigantic fish, in gratitude for the mud and weeds around him. But two prayers in particular form the basis for Raphael's sojourn on Earth—and for Buechner's story. A young woman, Sarah, loves her father so dearly that she doesn't want to be married, and summons a demon who, on her seven wedding nights, kills each of seven bridegrooms. But Sarah is so filled with guilt over these deaths that she prays to God to be killed. Meanwhile, a poor blind man, Tobit, also prays for death, to relieve his miseries and to allow his family to resume normal life. He enjoins his son to undertake a perilous journey both to retrieve a fortune and to find a wife. The son, the amiable, less-than-brilliant Tobias, dutifully starts off. Raphael then joins him, securing the fortune and helping Tobias to court Sarah, devising antidotes both for demons and for the blindness of Tobit. Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, emphasizes the goodness of God, playing down suffering, playing up faith. A slight tale, though often quite charming.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-06-061125-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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