Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about EverythingLiving with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ok so i’ve been an Ehrenreich junkie for forever. it’s so rare to read nonfiction in which the author just tells all the truth, without telling it slant or tidying it up so as not to offend The Powers. if you want an unvarnished examination of a subject, you go to Ehrenreich.

this autobiographical work centers on an experience Ehrenreich had at 17, in which something profoundly mystical happened to her. the problem with mystical experiences is that they don’t just restrict themselves to the religious, and Ehrenreich at that time was an atheist. if God is talking to you through a burning bush, do you accept the experience for what it was, or do you run for the librium?

one of the things i’ve always liked about Ehrenreich is her willingness to go way out on a limb–to inspect a thing carefully, draw what evidence is likely, and then take the conclusion out as far as it can stretch. not as ideologues do, but as people who aren’t afraid to hypothesize do. this is what makes Blood Rites, for example, such rich turf to stroll around in.

like Ehrenreich, i’m also an atheist; like her, i also have had mystical experiences for which i can’t account. so there was a good reason for me to buy the book (as if i needed any more–it’s got her name on the cover). it was fascinating to travel along with her in her attempts to figure out what that thing was.

the book is also a very affecting autobiography of a weird sort–Ehrenreich reports on her experiences growing up but doesn’t seem to make much effort to assign a meaning to them. this in a way makes them all the more powerful. her back-and-forth with her younger self is fascinating, particularly for those of us who grew up still hearing an appalling number of voices advising that the only place for women was in the home.

i’m going to read it again before i make a lot of noise (signifying nothing) about what that was, or might have been, or might again in the future. it’s difficult terrain to navigate, even with such an articulate  and clear-sighted guide. but i will say that i look forward to the journey, all over again 🙂


sorry that was just so exciting to type.

there’s a review of the book over at the NYT–i just kind of had to laugh. the reviewer says:

But this discursive and repetitive and claustrophobic book is more fully about the mystical experiences she began having as a young girl, experiences she has long been wary of speaking about, perhaps with reason.

and what is she complaining about? that it talks about mystical experience, and isn’t an autobiography! did this lady even read the stinkin’ flap copy? then there’s this:

Ms. Ehrenreich spends far too much time in “Living With a Wild God” turning the pages of a journal she kept from the ages of 14 to 24, trying to figure out her precocious and necessarily pretentious adolescent mind. The first half of this book is an agonizing slog.

which is autobiography, and now she’s bitching about that too.

she clearly wanted Ehrenreich to have written a different book, although she doesn’t seem to know what different kind. eyeroll. i guess you just can’t make some people happy.