Joshua Chambers is seventeen when he wakes up to the news that more than a dozen of his friends and former colleagues from his summer job the previous year have died in a blaze. This moment is the beginning of his lifelong sojourn to examine, question and find answers about religion, permanence of being, spirituality, sexuality, friendship and family. Right from his earliest memories as a two-year old, his school days, college frat community, and his later relationships, this book is structured as a series of events in Josh’s life, each of which contributes to the significant moments in his life that causes him to evolve and finally be at peace with himself.
I found this book to be in the existential space as much as spiritual and to be honest, this book was a bit out of my comfort zone. By that, I don’t mean that I found it hard to read; but hard to review. It took some time for me to collect my thoughts. Though the book is the story about one person, each chapter was about a different time and juncture in his life. With different cast of characters, some making an appearance more frequently in the book while there are others we don’t hear of again. I guess that’s how real life works, not everyone is meant to be a constant or recurring presence. This gave the book a disparate vibe at times. I guess that’s why there are some chapters I liked, some I didn’t connect to, some which stuck to my head, while others were forgettable. I think some of my favourite chapters were earlier ones. Maybe because I had more patience and understanding towards a confused teen or twenty year old. I found it hard to sympathize with him as he got older, couldn’t understand why he wasted away the privilege of being educated by not trying hard enough to get a skilled job.
Some of my favourite chapters are his school days with his best friends Patrick, Suzzy, his first crush Cathy and his life at Phi Kappa Delta frat house. This is also the time where his guidance counsellor encourages him write a book. He is clear about what he wants to write too – about the universal language that constitutes a grammar based on the balance between body, mind and soul. He enthusiastically collects his old notebooks and journals and starts penning his thoughts. He continues doing this diligently the rest of his life but is somewhere not entirely satisfied or confident that he is able to put into words something he connects to at an emotional level but is essentially a bit abstract and vague to form a book. He goes through his 30s and 40s with this restlessness, has a brief stint with alcohol addiction, lives in with a steady partner for four years and then decides to move into a condo near his sick mom. It is in these years that he goes through a powerful spiritual catharsis which jolts him out of his passivity and he decides to write again.
There are a lot cool quotes, especially in the first half of the book. (Click here to check them out). I liked the fact that it never got too preachy or self-indulgent. But what didn’t work for me is that, the book never got going as a conventional coming-of-age story of a teen searching for spiritual awakening. The two factors didn’t mesh together too well. But if you are in the mood for a slow-burning book, with thoughtful chapters that
you would like to revisit later on, then this just might be the book for you.