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The Son of Laughter [Paperback]

Frederick Buechner
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 19, 1994

Rich in family drama, passion, and human affinity, critically acclaimed author Frederick Buechner's contemporary retelling of this captivating and timeless biblical saga revitalizes the ancient story of Jacob, delighted our senses and modern sensibilities and gracing us with his exceptional eloquence and wit.

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Editorial Reviews Review

"The Bible's account of Jacob is a pungent seed found in a tomb," wrote the poet James Merrill about this novel. "Frederick Buechner has planted it and the result is this beautiful swaying tree of a book." The fact that Merrill was an old friend of Buechner's does not disqualify this eloquent testimony. Indeed, Jacob is powerfully translated here through Buechner's honest and humorous--and cantankerous--voice. We see a living, human character, as always in Buechner's work, whether fiction or nonfiction. From this archetypal tale of feuding brothers he draws a story of family and fear, and a tale of a living God with whom Jacob wrestles in more ways than one. The tale of this life is a rich one: the two wives, Leah and Rachel, the journeys and the dreams--all of it takes on a coloring that is both strange and yet familiar: here is a Jacob both larger than life and yet very much human, very much one of us. --Doug Thorpe

From Publishers Weekly

In this reimagined life of the biblical patriarch Jacob, Buechner ( Brendan ) sticks close to the Bible story. Reminiscing during his last days in Goshen, Jacob recounts the familiar events. An ambitious and cunning youth, he gets his ravenous elder twin Esau to sell his birthright for a meal, and then connives to receive the blessing that their father, Isaac (whose name, readers are told means "laughter," hence the title), would confer on his brother. He dreams of a stairway to heaven and wrestles with God, called "the Fear" throughout. Later chapters focus, like the biblical account, on Jacob's son Joseph. Buechner's embellishments deal mainly in his subject's inner psychology, and while his style is highly readable, the prose lacks resonance and in the end the novel proves no more evocative or informative than a well-developed Sunday-school lesson. The conceit of Jacob justifying his own life to the reader wears thin, and because the story is so familiar there are few surprises. Buechner's autobiographical works are more effective, but this volume is not likely to disappoint his many faithful readers.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (August 19, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062501178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062501172
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) is an American writer and theologian. He is the author of thirty-six published books and has been an important source of inspiration and learning for many readers. His work encompasses many genres, including fiction, autobiography, essays, sermons, and other nonfiction. Buechner's writing has often been praised for its ability to inspire readers to see the grace in their daily lives.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Gritty" Biblical Fiction January 30, 2000
Buechner captures both the human and the divine once again as he traces the life of Jacob, the son of Laughter (Isaac). While the biblical events of Jacob's life are present, Buechner fills in the biblical gaps with emotive images, powerful reflections, and realistic human commentary. Buechner simultaneously captures the human tendeny towards sin, and hope in a God who is not content to strand us in our wretchedness. He does so through the story of Jacob, which is really a story about the grace of God in one man's life; a grace we all can share in. This gritty story shows Buechner's ability to embrace one of Christianity's greatest paradoxes; that of a gracious and holy God who reaches into the lives and hearts of sinful man. The story remains true to the essence of Jacob's story in Genesis, but adds a gritty humanity to the gaps inbetween. I recommend this book to anyone who wrestles with sin and grace as I do.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Biography of Jacob Brought Powerfully to Life! December 7, 1999
By A Customer
This biography of Jacob walks a fine line between Biblical correctness and speculation. Buechner never adds data in conflict with the Bible, but certainly the character traits, motivations, and numerous small details that bring the story to life are certainly speculative. Such as I know of it, Buechner appears to have borrowed from rabbinical traditions to fill in some of the gaps in the story. (For example, just how did Sarah feel when Abraham and Isaac came back and told her that her husband had tried to sacrifice her son?) The result nevertheless is a gripping story that will forever color how I read Genesis 12-50.

Buechner has such a commanding way with words I almost believe that his books need to be read aloud. The images are so rich, the words are so carefully chosen, it is almost poetry.

Warning: Genesis is a PG-13 or R rated story, and Buechner's portrayal of some of the characters may offend some church people. I'd love to give the book to my pastor, for example, because of the richness of potential sermon illustrations, and I'd love to do a book study on this book in a Sunday School class, but in both cases, I think that Buechner gives just a bit too many of the seamy details for it to find its way into my church. (In short, if you like the Bible and you like R-rated movies, get this book! If you like the Bible but you think PG-13 movies are the work of Satan, then you probably won't like parts of this book much.)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite biblical fiction December 9, 2001
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Jacob, to be truthful, had never really spoken to me before this novel. This hauntingly beautiful retelling seeks to explain why he acted the way he did without whitewashing him.
The well known stories of his relationships with his parents and twin brother Esau are here, as well as his two wives and sons and the famous ladder dream and wrestling match with the angel.
Jacob is no saint (for instance, the fact that he barely sees Bilhah and Zilpah as people when he thinks of them at all subtly brings the point home of what being a slaveowner really means), but he has spoken to Mr. Buechner through the ages about why he was justified in doing what he did to Esau and preferred Joseph to such an extent over his other sons (Joseph, incidentally, is the most loveable character in the book, finally breaking the cycle of pain as the embodiment of the reconciliation of Jacob's mind to Esau's heart, and Jacob's retelling of Joseph's story - presumably from what his son told him after their reunion - is beautiful and one of the highlights of the novel). Through his life there is only one constant - God - and their relationship reminds us how frightening the Lord must have seemed at times to the patriarchs and matriarchs long before the Good News.
Buechner's voice for Jacob is utterly compelling, and the novel is biblically sound with one major exception. Like many before him and doubtless many who will follow, he doesn't deal with the thorny Biblical fact that Dinah was raped and Jacob wasn't all that concerned about it (the issue is skirted by theorizing that Jacob knew Dinah loved Sheckem and what happened between them was consentual).
This will eventually become a classic. Please note that at times it is rather sexually explicit - definitely an R rating.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An R-rated version of Genesis 12-20. December 17, 2001
By Craig
Novelizations of Biblical tales rarely work well. Some religious authors over glorify the characters, making them saints, reducing their credibility and immediacy. Non-religious authors usually try to reinterpret the Bible to fit a "modernized" word-view or social gospel, which changes the meaning of the story. Fortunately, Buechner avoids both of these pitfalls with this re-imagining of the lives of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. He ruthlessly depicts ancient cultures, full of graphic sex and violence, where God chooses a few unworthy messengers to carry out his work amid the backdrop of pagan gods and brutal animal sacrifice.
While the forefathers of the Jewish and Christian faiths are more wholesome and generally better behaved than their contemporaries, they often misinterpret the meaning of God's words, leading to bad decisions and dysfunction. Jacob ends up married to two squabbling sisters, siring children by his servants, and watching his older sons sell his favorite son into slavery. In fact, when you think about it, Jacob makes very few good decisions and leads a troubled life no one would envy. Yet, out of the turmoil, he becomes a "hero of the faith" and changes the course of history forever.
Buechner has a gift for direct, strong, image-laden prose that moves his story forward without too much analysis or "preaching". His voice is at times sorrowful, humorous, or downright cranky. His account embellishes on the Biblical versions without contradicting them. He relishes in showing us his characters' flaws and mistakes, all the while highlighting the work of "the Fear" in their lives. I urge you to read this book; you'll never look at Genesis the same way again.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
this does not follow the bible at all
Published 4 days ago by delana
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very satisfied.
Published 2 months ago by Stephen Roe
4.0 out of 5 stars Buechner has a way of making the old Bible stories ...
Buechner has a way of making the old Bible stories new. His depictions of Jacob and Joseph made their lives accessible to me so that they became real people, men that I could... Read more
Published 2 months ago by D. Beyers
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic & Prophetic
Buechner at his poetic and prophetic best. The book tells the narrative of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph with a humanity that will reorient how your read the Bible.
Published 2 months ago by jared mackey
4.0 out of 5 stars nice book
quick delivery, good condition. excellent book. enjoyable and thought-provoking
Published 2 months ago by Tiger Strib
5.0 out of 5 stars very good
this book is very useful for my contract class, its language is a little bit difficult for me to understand but it is in fact a really excellent book
Published 21 months ago by Yao
4.0 out of 5 stars Gave as a Gift
I ordered this book as a gift for a friend because I knew she enjoyed Frederick Buechner's books and this was one she had not read. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Mary Beth
5.0 out of 5 stars An earthy story
Frederick Buechner brings the story of Isac and Jacob to life in a way that puts you on the hot desert sand during the day and the cold nights under the stars and always amongst... Read more
Published on November 19, 2012 by Noelle Taber
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this!
This is an excellent novel. Beuchner is wonderful writer and brings the Biblical characters to life. Read more
Published on August 31, 2010 by ttk
4.0 out of 5 stars Fictional Retelling of the Jacob Saga
The Son of Laughter is a fictional work based on the life of Jacob/Israel. In it, Buechner works with the biblical sagas of Jacob and Joseph, filling on blanks and creating a... Read more
Published on August 28, 2009 by J Martin Jellinek
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