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The Son of Laughter [Paperback]

Frederick Buechner
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 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: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #451,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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16 of 16 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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16 of 17 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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10 of 10 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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OLD TESTAMENT FAMILY DRAMA BROUGHT TO LIFE April 2, 2002
Frederick Buechner's training and experience as an ordained Presbyterian minister, combined with his incredible literary skills make reading his works a pure joy. His retelling here of the story of Jacob, son of Isaac (whose name means Laughter), brings to life like no other author I've read the struggle toward God, the intra-family strife, and the sheer battle to stay alive in harsh times and an unforgiving landscape.
Jacob was not a perfect man -- but his yearning toward God was earnest and all-consuming, at the very core of his being. Buechner shines the light of his talent on Jacob's life, on the right and wrong decisions and actions, on the joy and sorrow, on the good times and the difficult -- and he does so with a loving hand, making no judgements, illuminating the whole and allowing the reader a multitude of aspects upon which to meditate and ponder, drawing parallels to our own lives and times as we do so.
The novel depicts a time during which people struggled within themselves -- and with their traditions -- to make the transition from worshipping many gods to worshipping one, and that transition was not an easy one. We can see the same struggle going on within our world today -- if we blur and expand the meaning of the word 'worship', we can see too many things that we value and allow to control our lives that should be peripheral to our journey, such as money, power, &c. Early in the book, Jacob makes reference to this transition (from p. 7), speaking of the 'old gods': 'When I say that I have forgotten their names, I mean that I cannot remember their names without trying. Maybe they also remember me. Who knows about gods? Maybe they have seen every step I have taken ever since.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
fictional depiction of the Bible story which is very accurate
Published 8 days ago by Frances B.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
One of my favorite novels. :)
Published 12 days ago by Rebekah Mancilla
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty and lyrical
I found that this book has a beauty in the rhythm of the prose that was like a poem or a song. The imagery and creativity effected me. Buechner has a genius and I was impressed! Read more
Published 8 months ago by Guy
5.0 out of 5 stars Earthy like only Buechner can spin it
Buechner delves into one of the oldest stories around and makes it fresh and alive. Earthy like only Buechner can spin it. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Published 13 months ago by D. Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Read at your own peril, but read anyway
Gripping retelling of stories that have been blunted by myriad Sunday School lessons. Buechner recaptures the fire and gritty realism that is actually present in these Bible... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Tim Bailey
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
this does not follow the bible at all
Published 19 months ago by delana
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very satisfied.
Published 21 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 21 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 21 months ago by jared mackey
4.0 out of 5 stars nice book
quick delivery, good condition. excellent book. enjoyable and thought-provoking
Published 22 months ago by Tiger Strib
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