“A master investigative stylist and one of the shrewdest commentators on religion’s underexplored realms.”—Michael Washburn, Washington Post
In this gorgeous collection of essays that has drawn comparisons to the work of Joan Didion, John McPhee, and Norman Mailer, best-selling author Jeff Sharlet reports back from the far reaches of belief, whether in the clear mountain air of “Sweet Fuck All, Colorado” or in a midnight congregation of anarchists celebrating a victory over police. Like movements in a complex piece of music, Sharlet’s dispatches vibrate with all the madness and beauty, the melancholy and aspirations for transcendence, of American life.
In a wide-ranging collection of personal essays, Sharlet (The Family) provides various takes on faith in the form of profiles of a diverse group among the faithful and the faithless including a politician, a philosopher, an anarchist, a Yiddish novelist, and a group of evangelical teens. One essay follows a New Age healer who makes good business "cleansing" homes of bad vibes for a surprising number of New York City's real estate brokerages ("Sondra's healing services were no sillier or more profound than the idea that by dunking yourself in water, you experience death and resurrection"). The author sometimes slips into easy armchair philosophizing, but the sketches themselves offer nuanced and genuinely touching portraits of people from all walks, giving impressions of evangelicals in the throes of doubt as well as skeptics who want badly to be religious, but can't bring themselves to it. Although the essays have the theme of faith in common, the diversity of their individual subjects is less a virtue than a lack of focus that may disappoint some readers, while others may be interested in working to discern, or invent for themselves, the points of intersection among these essays.