In this engaging follow-up novel (Breakfast With Buddha, 2008), Merullo takes readers on a spiritual road trip through the American West.
Otto Ringling is a successful New York City editor who has built a happy, comfortable life with his family in the suburbs. But when his wife, Jeannie, dies, Otto’s entire orbit is suddenly thrown off course. Along with his two college-aged children, his New-Age sister Cecelia, her eccentric, sort-of Buddhist husband and guru, Volya Rinpoche, and their enlightened 6-year-old daughter, Otto finds himself in the forests of Washington to spread his wife’s ashes. On the way back to the family farm in North Dakota, Otto rides alone with Volya—a reprise of the trip the two took in Breakfast With Buddha—in a beat-up pickup truck. Together, they traverse the mountainous West, Otto teaches Volya about American culture—including food, water parks, marijuana and transvestites—and Volya teaches Otto how to let go. Otto is frustrated and often angry. While he has embraced some of Volya’s teachings—and has even tried his hand at meditation and yoga—his wife’s death has left him bitter, skeptical and confused. But he does his best to keep an open mind: He listens to Volya, even when his sweet, wise and goofy companion says little; he asks questions, even when he knows that the answers will most likely elude him. In Otto Ringling, Merullo offers readers a hero that’s a bit jaded but loving; a little lost but searching. One can’t help but root for Otto, despite—or perhaps because of—his curmudgeonly tendencies, and hope that he finds the inner peace that, even if he doesn’t quite know it, he desperately seeks. While there are a few flat notes—a handful of too-convenient circumstances to help Otto along his path to clearer consciousness and some distracting references to too-current events (the Obama/Biden campaign, tumult in Syria) that pluck the narrative from its otherwise timeless path—Merullo’s is a beautifully written and compelling story about a man’s search for meaning that earnestly and accessibly tackles some well-trodden but universal questions.
A quiet meditation on life, death, darkness and spirituality, sprinkled with humor, tenderness and stunning landscapes.