After a couple of ambitious but disappointing outings (The Book of the Night, 1984; Eleanor, 1979), Lerman triumphs with the story of a Jewish insurance salesman, conned by his dead father's ghost into ministering to the spiritual needs of a congregation of losers and crazies. Hasidic Rabbi Fetner "lived in a universe in which absolutely everything is God's intention, where there's no coincidence, where an angel stands behind every blade of grass, singing 'Grow, darling, grow.'" His son, Yussel, can't be bothered with all that and lives a comfortable life with his wife and children, selling insurance instead of following the family tradition: he has no intention of sacrificing his life as his father did, opening his home to crazy strangers, his heart to everyone's pain, and his pockets to everyone's needs. But then Rabbi Fetner dies and is punished in the hereafter for unkindness to his wife. As his ghost explains--though he may be lying--he won't be allowed into Heaven until Yussel accepts his rabbinical destiny. In spite of himself, Yussel establishes a religious community in the Colorado desert where--after magically inventive happenings, misadventures with the locals (and with his father's pathetic followers), and much suffering brought on by desire for a beautiful, provocative neighbor--he finds he must defy tradition and look at women in a new light, a discovery which leads him to open his heart and attach himself to God. Lerman effortlessly works an immense amount of Jewish learning and Hasidic lore into a novel that's moving, wise, and very, very funny. Irresistible storytelling.