Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Book of Why

The Book of Why by Nicholas Montemarano
Little, Brown & Company, 1/8/2013
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316188470
A novel that asks if love ever really has to die
The power to solve your problems is within you-with the right sense of belief, the mind's ability to create success, happiness, and health is limitless.
At least that's the philosophy of self-help author Eric Newborn, whose books and lectures have spawned a legion of devoted followers who swear that his ideas have pulled their lives from the brink. But after the traumatic loss of his wife, Eric is left to face the darker side of his own teachings, living as a recluse in the home they shared on Martha's Vineyard, struggling to reconcile his worldview with the pain he has suffered. It's a fundamental question that haunts him: why?
When a fan with questions forces Eric to face the world once again, he's put on a path that might lead him towards the closure he seeks, but in astounding ways he could never begin to dream.
At once a stirring portrait of a soul laid bare by grief and a celebration of coincidence and the magic of real connection, The Book of Why explores the deep powers of the heart and mind to shape the world around us, blurring the lines between loss and love, fate and free will, and despair and joy.

My Thoughts:

In The Book of Why by Nicholas Montemarano protagonist Eric Newborn is a best selling author of self-help books. The only problem is that he no longer believes in the answers he presupposed to others - that positive thinking will prevent bad things from occurring in your life. He knows that despite his previous claims, he doesn't have an answer to why bad things happen to good people. Eric has escaped his life and fame by hiding out on Martha's Vineyard with his dog, Ralph, when Sam, a woman who is searching for him, ends up at his door, injured. Eric tries to keep his identity a secret as long as possible, but she eventually discovers his identity.
Interspersed at the beginning of sections in The Book of Why are excerpts of Eric's lectures and/or his books, so you can get a feeling for his philosophy of "positive thinking can cure everything" He believes that if people just believe they can create their own reality. The narrative actually follows several different timelines, jumping from present day to Eric's childhood to the time he spent with his wife. His childhood sections help to reveal the birth of his philosophy. The sections with his wife show his beliefs tested and challenged. The sections in the present reveal his current disillusionment. 
I was conflicted on this novel. If I didn't commit to reviewing it, I might have stopped at 50 pages, however, at about half way through the novel it began to mesh together for me and at that point I was engrossed in Eric's story. I found myself less annoyed with Eric's naive beliefs and his casting aspersion on other beliefs or blaming people for their suffering. Then, at the end of the novel, I was back to not enjoying the novel as much, but in this case it was due to a choice Montemarano made in his writing, rather than the plot, that was off-putting for me.
Montemarano is a very good writer. The Book of Why is beautifully written, with almost poetic-dream like passages, but it is also a very dark, depressing novel.There are many questions raised but few answers given. Certainly if you have ever wondered if there really are coincidences, if everything happens for a reason, and if can miracles happen, you will want to discover what Eric concludes... and you might be disappointed in the ending. 
Eric tells us: "I didn’t know, then, that it would be my final book. Before this one, I mean. Though I don’t consider this a book as much as a letter: to the woman in the yellow dress, to Cary, to Gloria Foster. I didn’t know, then, that I would ever need to write another book; that I would write The Book of Why, after all, though not as an answer but rather as an unanswerable question. I didn’t know, when I thought I knew it all, that I would join the chorus of askers. (Location 1727-1730)"
Highly Recommended - but read it with a positive frame of mind
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Little, Brown & Company and Netgalley for review purposes.


This is a self-help book. Didn’t think it was, but it is. It’s also a revision, a question, a confession, an apology, a love letter. This book is for you, of course, and now for Gloria Foster, who might read this when she’s older, might chance upon this book online or in a used book store in Philadelphia or New York or San Francisco, open to a random page, and see her own name. She might be struck by that and sit where she had been standing in an aisle and begin reading. Location 11-15

She’ll be twenty-seven by then, a woman.Location 26-27 

Celebrate Life Conference, Phoenix Convention Center, 1996
HELLO AND WELCOME. Thank you all for coming. You are here for a reason. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ask yourself why. What would you like to accomplish today? What would you like to change about your life? Maybe you’re drowning in debt. Maybe you’re stuck in a stressful, unrewarding job. Maybe you’ve chosen a career you know isn’t your true calling. Maybe your marriage is falling apart. Maybe you’re estranged from your children or your parents. Maybe you’re battling an addiction or a serious illness. Maybe you’re happy but want to be happier. If any of these are true, you’ve come to the right place. No need to move for the next two hours; the only shift will take place inside you. Location 28-35

Write this down and underline it: Happiness is an inside job. Let me say that again: Happiness is an inside job. Happiness doesn’t depend on what anyone else is doing. It doesn’t depend on circumstances. If only this would happen, I’d be happy. If only that would happen, I’d be happy. No more excuses. Happiness is an inside job. Your mind is the ultimate gift-giver. You need to understand: we live in an abundant universe. The universe is listening to your every thought. You are always broadcasting a signal to the universe, and this signal—this wave of energy—will always return to you. Every request is granted. There are no accidents in this universe, only laws, and ignorance of the law is no excuse.  Location 38-44

She sips her tea. “I was just thinking,” she says. “The man I’m looking for—maybe you know him.”
“I doubt it.”
“He disappeared five years ago.”
“So he’s missing.”
“No,” she says. She leaves the washcloth on the table, walks across the room. She squats in front of my bookcase. “Hey, look at this!” She holds up the book so I can see. “This is him. I’m telling you—this is a sign.”
“What does he look like?”
“Not sure,” she says. “None of his books has an author photo.”
“I haven’t opened that book in years,” I say. Location 161-166

“When I was a kid, I used to cry at happily-ever-after. Because, you know, they lived happily ever after, they weren’t living happily ever after.”
“You were greatly upset by grammatical contradictions.”
“They lived happily—fine. I can accept that. But as soon as you use the past tense lived, you can’t say ever after.” Location 234-237

I don’t remember which magazine I put them in, so I take the entire rack. I spread the magazines on my bed and flip through them until I find the checks—five or six royalty checks with my name and address on them. I haven’t needed to cash or deposit them. Location 285-287

Years later a fellow self-help author got at that. He told me, “On every page of your books there are two things battling for space—faith and doubt. Your faith, as it comes through in your words, must be stronger than your reader’s doubt. Your faith must be stronger than your own doubt. Just as long as you never forget that doubt is faith’s friend, the very thing that makes faith stronger.” Location 426-428

Another rule was, Don’t be afraid. Another was, Whatever you’re afraid of will find you. Location 790-791

Please, listen to me: Don’t allow the weight of the past to pull you down. Don’t allow your past to define your future. It’s time to retell your story beginning with your next thought. Location 985-986

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