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House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 15, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
In this fascinating memoir, novelist Richard (Fishboy) details a life that led him from a lurid South to the gray streets of New York City. Born with deformities that left him nearly crippled, Richard suffered medical procedures that would have done a medieval torturer proud. Richard's status as a "special child" (it was also believed he was mentally handicapped) meant that he was further marginalized. As an outsider, Richard meets bizarre characters and finds himself in increasingly bizarre situations. As he dives into a world of crime and bad behavior, Richard hones his talent as a writer, with increasing success. Richard's flattened narrative tone suits the extreme nature of his material. He successfully weaves into his memoir recurring characters like his father, who slowly come into focus. As Richard gets older, however, characters and events blur in a mess of love affairs and crimes, shipwrecks and drug deals, and celebrities. Throughout, there's a grace to even his darkest tales. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year
"Read Richard's amazing memoir House of Prayer No. 2 — read it as soon as you can, you'll barrel through it — and you'll know after just two pages of his effortlessly killer prose that he's special all right ... Narrating, mostly, through the best use of second-person urgency since Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, he describes being a disc jockey, a deckhand, a private eye, a ditchdigger. The man can tell a full story in the flick of a phrase ... Hallelujah. A"
"An absorbing account of growing up in the 1960s South, living with a disability, becoming a writer and finding faith. Richard’s book attests to the power of words (and the Word) in shaping a life, while at the same time challenging some dearly held beliefs about memoir as a genre ... [His] special childhood results in considerable powers of observation, empathy and imagination ... Richard is a fiercely gifted writer."
—The New York Times Book Review
"A liberating demonstration of the power of faith."
—The Wall Street Journal
"Deploying the second person in a memoir, as Mark Richard does in the entrancing House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer’s Journey Home, is like dropping an atomic bomb. Richard’s prose is gorgeous – and hits with a force that sometimes stuns ... His propulsive prose makes House of Prayer No. 2 a surprising page turner ... Where other memoirists – evangelical and/or literary – just bluff and brag, he makes art.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“So varied, dramatic, and, at times, incredible that it is bound to leave almost every reader with the feeling that they haven't lived at all … I loved every word of it."
—The New Yorker
"House of Prayer No. 2 is a surreal and poetic memoir about faith, self-discovery and forming an artistic inner life."
—Fredericksburg Free Lance–Star
"Mark Richard’s memoir, House of Prayer No.2, is the finest book he’s ever written. No one writes like him. His prose style is both hammerblow and shrapnel. He has written the book of his life."
"Hot damn! And Glory be! Both. This is a wonderful book."
—Roy Blount, Jr.
"The precision of the descriptions is marvelous in this memoir of growing up with infirmity. The depth of Richard’s heart is profound, exhilarating, frightening, instructive. House of Prayer No. 2 is a work of high art."
"In this unconventional memoir, we see the yearning of the artist transfigured into faith—an authentic faith that is both struggled for and struggled against in the midst of ceaseless and necessary doubt. Mark Richard says important things about finding one's way, about love in action, about being a father, and he does so with the precision and grace of an artisan from another time. This is some of the finest writing you will ever read."
"If Mark Richard could not write, you could not read this. Since he can, you can’t not read it. It is unreal, and Mr. Richard has the wit to make it real."
Top customer reviews
This is the story of the author, Mark Richard, and his life from his challenging childhood as a young boy in the South about whom a doctor says, "he will be in a wheelchair by the time he is thirty". Richard is obviously a precocious child, deemed 'special' in the parlance of the day. It is never clear to Richard or his family whether this is a compliment or an insult. The book follows his unusual path to becoming a writer, husband, and father. Further, as the title indicates, it is a documentation of his spiritual journey; somehow Richard manages this aspect of the tale without becoming overbearing or preachy about it.
I do hate to use a cliché, but I absolutely devoured this book. I was thinking about it when I wasn't actually reading it. It's a unique story, but yet it contains many universal issues about finding your path and your purpose in life--but don't let that fool you. This book is flat-out entertaining.
If I could give more than five stars I would. I give this a huge recommend for all audiences. Don't let the spiritual journey deter you if you are not a particularly spiritual person; this is rip-roaring story that anyone might enjoy. Don't let the earthy anecdotes deter you if you are a particulary spiritual person; Richard is a human being who like anyone else makes some mistakes. Put this at the top of your reading list.
*This often happens to me with Kindle books as there is no cover to look at, and by the time I get to a book I often forget why I ordered it in the first place.
And perhaps it is also because Richard understands his story as more than the story of his own life, that in its great particularity, he recognizes an unchanging story, perhaps the same one Solomon tells in Ecclesiastes. Whatever the reason for his choice, Richard's second-person is a cantor, a singer of a mysterious and elevated song. When I listened to the opening paragraphs of "House of Prayer No. 2" in my head, both John Milton's "Paradise Lost" and of Walt Whitman's "A Child Went Forth" sprang to mind. It was clear from the outset that Mark Richard was steering no middle course.
Just listen to the incantation: "Say you have a `special child, which in the South means one between Downs and dyslexic. Birth him with his father away on Army maneuvers...Give him his only visitor in the military hospital his father's father, a sometime railroad man, sometime hired gun for Huey Long with a Louisiana Special Police badge. Take the infant to Manhattan, Kansas, in winter, where the only visitor is a Chinese peeping tom, little yellow face in the windows during the cold nights. Further frighten the mother, age twenty, with the child's convulsions. There's something "different" about this child, the doctors say."
The "difference" was both the child's precociousness and his malformed hip joints that prevented his disguising that precociousness in the ways bright children generally disguise it from themselves and others---in games, sports, physical antics. Difference always isolates. Children know that even before they have words. By age five, "the child lies in the cold backyard grass and watches the thousands of starlings swarm Dr. Jim's chimneys, and the child feels like he is dying in an empty world."
His search for the love that will invest the world with meaning and life led this particular child to some interesting places, just as Solomon's yearnings for meaning led him to interesting places. I find myself wanting to say Richard was saved from despair by his hardheaded determination to look pain and loneliness straight in the face and his refusal to yield to self-pity. Yet I know that is not the story told in this book. This story is about such a man's openness to a force beyond himself, his gradual yielding to a power that leads him first to love and hence to light. "House of Prayer" is about Grace.
It is brilliantly told in a language both lean and evocative. I first encountered the power of Richard's spare prose in his haunting story "Strays," the first story in the collection "Ice at the Bottom of the World."The Ice at the Bottom of the World: Stories It is hard to write about children without lapsing into sentimentality or shallow humor, but in that story I saw those little boys as they must have seen themselves---not as victims (though they were victims of careless parents and heartless adults), but as people who took life one step at a time and did the best they could at each step. They lived in great poverty of means and spirit, and yet they did not despair, they retained hope. Hope, it seems to me, is something that lies beneath even the darkest surfaces in Richard's work. Such an achievement to be able to capture that, to have the vision to see it and the art to communicate it.
In this era of memoirs, "House of Prayer No. 2" stands out both for its artistry and its vision.
I could not help contrasting this book with Joan Didion's two memoirs of the last decade. No one describes the pain of loss any more perceptively than Didion. Her accounts of her life after her husband's death and within three years, her daughter's death brilliantly capture the experiences. The disorientation, the exquisite ache---Didion conveys that almost too well. And yet that is all the reader is left with--the ache and confusion and hopelessness. In that regard "A Year of Magical Thinking" and "Blue Nights" resemble too many recent, often lesser efforts at memoir.
In his Nobel speech, Wm Faulkner declared that it is the writer's "privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. " Richard's "House of Prayer No.2" leads us on a remarkable journey through confusing darkness to light so subtly that with him, we too are "slain in the spirit" and close his book more hopeful for the experience.
Like others, I found it hard to put this book aside. I found myself thinking of it when I should have been thinking of other things. And since finishing it, I've kept it handy so I may go back and read parts that spring to mind in the midst of other reading, see how this or that was managed, read those first five or six pages yet once more. Yet this book is more than a page-turner. It attains to the heights. And it takes readers with it.
Those of us who love Mark Richard's writing often complain that he doesn't do more of it. Yet I'm grateful he chose not to take up residence in some comfy English Department, where he might so easily have missed the variety of experience that has enriched and shaped his understanding of the world and man.
What a book!