August 19, 2010
“BABBLING IN A LANGUAGE THAT I ALONE DIDN’T SPEAK”
A novel, according to Stendahl (who is actually quoting Saint-Réal), is “a mirror carried along a highway — that is, a reflection of everything that’s happens to catch the eye of the novelist. But sometimes, as in “In Eight Days: A Journey Toward an Open Heart” by Lawrence Liebling (Silent River Press: $14.95), the mirror is turned inwards.
A car crash sets the story in motion, and the victim is haunted by his memory of a spectral woman whose voice he hears a moment before the accident. The mystery only deepens when a strange book is retrieved from the wreckage, “The Diary of Every Man.” He is afflicted by dreams and visions, and he feels estranged from his wife and family. “I felt separated,” says Jonathan West, “like everyone was babbling in a language that I alone didn’t speak.”
West embarks upon a spiritual journey, guided by the author of “The Diary of Every Man,” who turns out to be a rabbi of ancient times named Arya Ben Eliazer. At precisely this point in the story, the book morphs into something quite different from a conventional novel — Liebling is describing a purely interior process by which his fictional character seeks to penetrate the mysteries of the universe.
The writings of Rabbi Ben Eliazer, which are presented in chapter-length extracts, are much more like Tony Robbins than Hillel or Shammai. “Looking back at it now,” the rabbi writes, “it still astonishes me how life can change so completely from the way it was before.” His theology is simple enough: “What does God want from us?” “To love…to love life…to love God…to love each other…to love yourself.” But it’s mind-blowing to Jonathan West: “I had to put the book down and catch my breath.”
By the end of the eight-day meditation that Liebling describes at length and in great detail, Jonathan West has achieved the wisdom that eludes the rest of us — but it’s expressed in terms that would not sound out of place in any gathering of New Age seekers. “Down through the ages, anger, resentment, and revenge have traveled a well-worn path inside the collective mind of humanity,” says another one of the spectral voices that West hears. “Yet it needn’t be. There is another road, far less traveled, which leads to a land that abounds with new awareness.”
To Liebling’s credit, he allows Jonathan’s wife to express the skepticism that some readers are likely to feel. “Jonathan — earth to Jonathan — come in Jonathan,” cracks Karen. And the author is perfectly earnest about what he offers up in the pages “In Eight Days,” which cannot be said about various other novelists who have achieved best-sellerdom by trafficking in phony spirituality and fake history.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at www.jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and he can be reached at email@example.com.