For years, maybe most of my life, I had languished in that typical young intellectual’s delusion that gloom and despair are the romantic lot of the brilliant and the wise. But now I saw: it wasn’t so…. The hungry can’t eat your tears. The poor can’t spend them. They’re no comfort to the afflicted and they don’t bring the wicked to justice. Everything useful that can be done in the world can be done in joy.
Has Andrew Klavan written Surprised by Joy for the 21st Century? I’m not qualified to say. But I will say The Great Good Thing is a wonderful book, a book in the great tradition of spiritual autobiographies like those of Lewis and St. Augustine – but with a modern edge.
You already know I’m wholly sold out to Andrew Klavan as a writer. He may be the best author of mystery/thrillers alive. You probably also know that he converted to Christianity from secular Judaism a few years back. In Klavan’s view these two facts aren’t unconnected. As he internalized the elements of storytelling, he reports, he was drawn ever closer to eternal truths.
Klavan tells us of his youth – economically comfortable – in a Jewish neighborhood in Great Neck, Long Island. His family seemed normal – he himself believed it was normal – but in fact it was deeply dysfunctional. His father was angry and a bully. His mother was a disengaged, frustrated social climber. The first real motherly love he experienced was from a Christian Ukrainian nanny, and her influence lingered. A smart but lazy kid, Drew Klavan faked his way through school and then college, buying the assigned books but never reading them, bluffing in classroom discussions and on tests.
And yet, he was always telling himself stories. He lived in his head so much that it scared him sometimes. Later in life he would contemplate suicide, and save his sanity only through psychological counseling.
But always there was the storytelling. The more he learned of the nature and essential truth of stories, the closer he grew to God. He was an atheist, and an agnostic, and then a Zen Buddhist. But one day he realized that when he verbalized what he’d learned about life and the nature of the universe, about right and wrong, about love, it all pretty much added up to the Christian faith. Integrity forced him to be baptized.
Few books have fascinated and moved me like The Great Good Thing. A storyteller on storytelling. A healed neurotic on sanity. A former atheist on Christianity. Surprises everywhere.
Andrew Klavan is not “pure” on the Bible as we fundamentalists would like (much like C.S. Lewis). But there’s a difference between someone ten feet away who’s walking toward you, and one ten feet away who’s walking away from you. I think we all recognize that.
There’s some adult subject matter in this book, so it’s probably not for your Sunday School class. But I recommend it highly for grownups, especially if you love great writing, lucid reasoning, and red meat Christian confessional.