The Cosmic Factor

In his ambitious debut novel, Pautassi uses science, faith and romance as vehicles to explore the deeper mysteries of the universe.
Ruben Miller isn’t your average college student. He’s at the top of his class, and his IQ is “sky high,” but he’s been behaving strangely; Ruben’s been staring at the river all day, every day, fixated on the salmon running upstream. At night, he dreams of professors appearing within geometric shapes and monks telling him that he can be one with the cosmos. When he meets Monique Laramie, they have an instant, uncanny connection, one whose purpose becomes clearer as the story unfolds. Monique introduces Ruben to a book called Parapsychology by a certain Dr. Martin; together, they start to realize that they are both experiencing extrasensory perceptions. In Portland, Ruben seeks out Dr. Martin, who he learns is teaching a class of psychics—people who, along with Ruben and Monique, realize their potential to explore the universe. Author Pautassi clearly has an expansive mind. In this intriguing book, the writing is often elegant, and the ideas explored are both unique and profound. Yet the drama could have been more fully thought-out. Often, the narrative pleasures take a back seat to intellectual discursions as the considerations of philosophy and theology, rich though they may be, overshadow the story. Not that the narrative is devoid of conflict; rather, the problems characters must face are too often easily resolved. Ruben’s psychic abilities, for example, could have spurred conflict, but they seem to solve every problem rather than create new ones. When potentially interesting conflicts do arise, they are quickly dismissed: “For a second Ruben wasn’t at all happy that Bob had read his mind. Then he quickly got over it.” Much of the action, especially in the first half, takes place in symbolic dreamscapes, which, while providing plenty of opportunity for intelligent discourse, are so nonsensical that they cause the narrative momentum to stall. The exploration of the paranormal is fascinating and original. One just wishes that more human problems—the paradoxes of desire, the difficulties of communication—had been given equal weight.
A smart novel—maybe too smart for its own good.

Pub Date: June 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1484942857

Page Count: 158

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2014

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor. One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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