A religious-themed comedy of errors that presents a wry yet ultimately affectionate look at the state of godliness today.


The Freedom of Will

A gentle satire about one young man’s quest to find his spiritual identity.

When readers first meet teenager William James Tillit, the unlikely but good-hearted hero of Clatterbaugh’s debut novel, he’s in his bedroom in his aunt and uncle’s house, talking with God. But in Will’s case, God talks back to him directly—and often sarcastically. Will has been living with his aunt and uncle for most of his 19 years, but now, after obtaining a deferred admission to Tulane University, he’ll be traveling from Louisiana to East Texas to take a job working at the Galilee Theme Park run by the Rev. Shister. The prospect of the road trip excites him, although God is more phlegmatic about the whole idea, because Will is eager to experience the larger outside world. But his trip turns out to be far more adventurous than his highest hopes. Clatterbaugh expertly orchestrates a set of sometimes-funny, sometimes-touching, and always thought-provoking predicaments for Will, from attending a glitzy “mega-megachurch” whose motto is “Trust in the Lord—Guaranteed” (God himself is less than impressed) to meeting an agnostic hamster named Ham. Before Will can reach his theme park destination, he’s confronted by ultrazealous, psychotic doomsday preppers and captured by a fundamentalist militia group. As God puts it, the trip “sets a new standard in the broadening horizons department.” Along the way and seamlessly worked into the narrative, Will and his new friends and enemies manage to discuss many debate topics of current Christian theology, always in an energetic, approachable way. Clatterbaugh draws even the most outrageous characters with believable humanity, including God, whose running commentary on Will’s life is the comedic highlight of the book. Christians will love the strange concoction he serves up in these pages, and non-Christians will appreciate the evenhandedness of the many spiritual discussions.

A religious-themed comedy of errors that presents a wry yet ultimately affectionate look at the state of godliness today.

Pub Date: June 24, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-8302-8

Page Count: 318

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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