Spiritual fiction is a byway little traveled by mainstream authors, but Merullo has grown so persuasive over the course of...

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BREAKFAST WITH BUDDHA

Merullo again takes on religion, but this time he makes it a lot more accessible than in Golfing with God (2005, etc.).

Eschewing the previous novel’s flat-out fantasy (setting: heaven; narrator: dead), the author here provides a realistic framework that plays to his strengths as an astute observer of society and sympathetic analyst of individual psyches. Otto Ringling, a senior editor at a New York publishing house, likes his job, loves his wife and two teenage children and takes pride in the comfortable life he’s built. But he’s been shaken by the recent death of his parents in a car crash: “All these joys and miseries, all this busyness, all this stuff…I started to ask myself, leads exactly where?” He’s not looking forward to a long drive to North Dakota with his sister Cecelia to sort through their parents’ possessions. And he’s infuriated when Cecelia informs him she’s not going after all, but sending instead her “guru,” Volya Rinpoche, to whom she intends to donate the family farmhouse and her share of the land for a retreat in North Dakota. Otto’s not happy to be traveling with a man in a maroon robe who seems almost a buffoon, with his broken English and tendency to talk in riddles. Slowly, as Merullo sends this odd couple down rural back roads through beautifully described landscapes, we see Otto’s defenses dropping as Volya’s quiet wisdom becomes apparent. The lessons imparted are neither new nor startling (live fully in the moment, etc.), but the author eloquently conveys their simple power to ease Otto’s mind and heart. Volya makes no claim to be “the incarnation of the Buddha” others have called him, but this low-key novel movingly shows him to be a tender lover of humanity.

Spiritual fiction is a byway little traveled by mainstream authors, but Merullo has grown so persuasive over the course of two luminous little novels that readers might well follow him even if he turned next to, say, Mornings with Mohammed.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-56512-522-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

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.

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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