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If The Razor’s Edge had starred Zero Mostel instead of Tyrone Power, this book might never have been written. And that would be a pity. Well-known translator Mitchell (The Book of Job, etc.) has given us a first novel in the form of an autobiography. And not just any autobiography, mind you, but a spiritual autobiography in the style of G.I. Gurdjieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men, mixing anecdote with advice, and tossing some poems into the soup of philosophy. Stephen, our narrator, is a Jewish college professor whose disgust with the present-day cult of angels inspired him to publish a best-selling diatribe—Against Angels—attacking that obsession as delusional and puerile. Imagine his surprise, then, when confronted with an apparition of the Archangel Gabriel, who has come to set him straight. After engaging Stephen in an elaborate consideration of God, his angels, and the nature of human life, Gabriel settles back to listen to Stephen’s side of things. Stephen, hardly an atheist, has actually spent most of his life wrestling with religion and philosophy—among the Hasidim of Brooklyn, the Zen Buddhists, and the more mundane graduate students of Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley—and the better part of the story is his. A husband and father, Stephen wants to understand God in relational terms, and Gabriel makes it clear that this is possible. But only up to a point: “You can’t see God’s face without dying. Are you ready to die?” Much of the story is a debate rather than a narrative, and sometimes it bogs down in the mire through which all such disputations must drive (“One of our most exciting games is standing on the edge of a truth, just before it touches its opposite, and gazing down into the abyss between them”). For the most part, though, this is a pretty good (if giddy) ride. Insanely quirky, but good-natured, unpretentious, and (at times) genuinely enlightening. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-018245-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998


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