"alternately hilarious and poignant Merullo's detailed descriptions of the American Northwest keep the writing grounded even as its themes turn increasingly spiritual. Merullo doesn't try too hard to prove any spiritual points, however. As a result, Lunch is a moving yet entertaining and never histrionic account of how an ordinary American family--with a few extraordinary members in its ranks--deals with the overwhelming grief of losing one of their own." Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
"LUNCH WITH BUDDHA examines questions that crop up sooner or later for many (most?) of us. Although Volya's wise lectures are helpful to Otto's search for answers, it is the variety of people they meet-and the attitudes [they] carry-that are what provide Otto with the evidence and reminders and motivation to decide to live a certain way.Reading Merullo's novel, I couldn't help but think of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman-their great reverence for independent, passionate, non-conformist thought-the different drummer-but never without the accompanying respect for it in others."
-The Salem News
"Lunch with Buddha will ringtrue with many readers. Highly recommended."
-Midwest Book Review
From the Author
A DISCUSSION OF LUNCH WITH BUDDHA
(Abridged version of a conversationbetween authors Roland Merullo & Matthew Quick that is included with the novel.)
Matthew Quick: We've known eachother for 5 or so years, during which we've discussed writing, publishing,spirituality, and life in general. Your fiction often explores the questionsand concerns that are most important to you. What led you to write Lunch withBuddha?
Roland Merullo: From my earliestyears, when I was a devout Catholic boy living in a world where the rules andtraditions of Catholicism were the air we all breathed, I've been puzzling overwhat I'll call, for lack of a better term, "the meaning of life". Whydo people suffer? Why is the suffering spread around so unevenly? What are wedoing here in the first place? What happens to a person's spirit after he orshe dies? In my 20's, my eyes were opened to answers that came from placesother than the Christian tradition. Rather than seeming like a challenge tothat tradition, the wisdom of the East has always seemed to me like anexpansion of it. Buddhism, especially, but also Sufism, Hinduism, and Taoismmade the story of Jesus more understandable and believable to me, not less. Itend to write about what I'm most focused on, in my interior life. I've had adaily meditation practice for 30-some years and still do a lot of readingacross the spiritual spectrum. I love to drive and see new places, love to eatdifferent kinds of food, love to see the humor in life and make people laugh.So it was natural that all these things would find their way into a novel. Andit was surprisingly easy for me, after a 7-year hiatus, to get right back intothe mindsets of these characters.
MQ: I've loved every RolandMerullo book I've read, and Lunch with Buddha may be my favorite yet. Why doyou think that is?
RM: I don't know. I'm too close tothe book right now to have any kind of perspective on it at all. But I knowfrom your fine writing, and from our talks, that you have the same greatcuriosity about life that I have. You wonder why people behave the way they do.You try to bring some light into the world when you can. And you make upstories that contain both the puzzlement and curiosity, and your idea of ananswer to the big questions. We are mining that same vein, or maybe similarveins in the same mine. I really believe that every soul is put on earth with acertain set of skills and interests, and a certain purpose or purposes. I thinkwe've both found what we're supposed to be doing here, and our job is simply todo it as well as we can, deal with whatever obstacles we face, and let thechips fall.
MQ: Early in the novel you write:"Rinpoche seemed to live on the far side of some line that marked theboundary of ordinary American reality." Is that where you want to live?
RM: I'm a very down-to-earth kind ofperson. I like realistic fiction and films. I like people who can cook, orhammer a nail, or fix a bleeding wound, or comfort a crying child. But I'm alsonot completely convinced that our assumptions are always 100% accurate. A fewcenturies ago people tormented Galileo for daring to say that the earth movedaround the sun. For how many centuries before that was the assumptionincorrect? Einstein's theories similarly challenged the prevailing"wisdom" of the day. So I think it's wise to be a little skepticalabout our laws and truths. Maybe, for instance, at least some of the psychicswho claim to be in contact with the dead are actually in contact with the dead.I don't know. I have very sensible friends whose late spouses "spoke"to them. Surely there are a lot of phonies and scammers out there, a lot ofpeople who "see" the end of the world, or speak in tongues, or havevisions, but are simply fooling themselves or someone who is paying them.Still, I leave the door open just a bit to the idea that there's more to lifethan the things we can measure and explain. In Breakfast,Otto starts out totally skeptical of Rinpoche's interest in meditation and theinterior life. By the end of the novel he's been moved off that position ashort ways. In Lunch, though he doesn't really want it to be so, hesuspects that death is final, and he'll never have any communication with hisbeloved wife again. By the end of the novel that assumption, too, has beenshaken just a bit. It's a tightrope walk. I'm a realist. I don't want to writeflaky books. But I am all about pushing the boundaries of the interior life -which is the heart and soul of Rinpoche's talk in Spokane.
MQ: "Why didn't goodprevail?" your character asks. It's a question you and I have talked aboutmany times. In most of your books, good usually does prevail, if only in somesmall way. Would you say that your fiction is a vehicle of hope? Is that whyyou write?"
RM: Yes, a vehicle of hope. I thinkwe both work that way, no? And, yes, that does reflect my view of life. I'mfascinated - and I think this shows itself in every single one of my books,even the golf books - with the way people deal with difficulty, hardship, pain,disappointment, tragedy and life's seeming inequities. And in the last fewbooks it's been: how do people deal with the spiritual search, in the face oflife's hardships? Some people indulge their pain and pass it on. Some fight itto a draw. And some people transcend. My goal - reflected in many of mycharacters - is to transcend. I'm not there yet.
MQ: Otto says, "Wholelibraries of subjects were off limits now, at least in my circles." Manyof the ideas in Lunch with Buddha are "off limits" to so many peoplehere in America, and yet, your work seems to provide a much needed bridge. Whydoes America need Buddha and Eastern thought?
RM: As to the first part: Otto'sspeaking to the way conversations about certain subjects have become stultifiedin this society. The national discussion has turned into two camps ridiculingeach other. Bigotry on the one hand, political correctness on the other. ThankGod we still have comedians.
To make a bad generalization, Ithink Eastern thought is primarily inner-focused. The pejorative term is"navel gazing." Well, I think we could use a bit more navel gazing inour society. We do so many wonderful things in the external world - photos fromMars, medicines for AIDS and other illnesses, remarkable surgeries, incredibletechnological gizmos. But when Steve Jobs (I may be wrong, but I believe he hada Buddhist practice) was dying he is reputed to have said, "Oh, wow!"As if he saw something. I somehow doubt that what he saw was the nextgeneration of the iPad. I think it was some interior experience, some widerunderstanding of the miracle of life. Except in its mystical tradition - whichis vast and of long standing but largely ignored in this society - Christianityis outer-focused. It's too often all about behavior and sin and loud prayer.Okay. But what Rinpoche does for Otto is to take that foundation of goodbehavior and show him that it is a starting point, not an end point. "TheKingdom of Heaven is within you." Jesus said that, not Buddha. But it'sthe Easterners who pursue it more avidly, and I think we would benefit fromthat pursuit.
MQ: Please tell me there will bea Dinner with Buddha and that I will be able to read it relatively soon.
RM: First, thank you for thesesuperb questions, and for your friendship and your books. As for Dinner,well, I have laid the groundwork for that at the end of Lunch. Just needto come up with another route, a part of the country we haven't covered. I'mopen to suggestion.