Thursday, May 26, 2011

House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer’s Journey Home

House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey HomeAuthor: Mark Richard
ISBN: 978-0-3985-51302-9
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Purchase Link: House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home
Source: DoubleDay for Review

Called a “special child,” Southern social code for mentally—and physically—challenged children, Richard was crippled by deformed hips and was told he would spend his adult life in a wheelchair. During his early years in charity hospitals, Richard observed the drama of other broken boys’ lives, children from impoverished Appalachia, tobacco country lowlands, and Richmond’s poorest neighborhoods. The son of a solitary alcoholic father whose hair-trigger temper terrorized his family, and of a mother who sought inner peace through fasting, prayer, and scripture, Richard spent his bedridden childhood withdrawn into the company of books.

As a young man, Richard, defying both his doctors and parents, set out to experience as much of the world as he could—as a disc jockey, fishing trawler deckhand, house painter, naval correspondent, aerial photographer, private investigator, foreign journalist, bartender and unsuccessful seminarian—before his hips failed him. While digging irrigation ditches in east Texas, he discovered that a teacher had sent a story of his to the Atlantic, where it was named a winner in the magazine’s national fiction contest launching a career much in the mold of Jack London and Mark Twain.

A superbly written and irresistible blend of history, travelogue, and personal reflection, House of Prayer No. 2 is a remarkable portrait of a writer’s struggle with his faith, the evolution of his art, and of recognizing one’s singularity in the face of painful disability. Written with humor and a poetic force, this memoir is destined to become a modern classic.

Writing Style - Most Memoirs are told in first person. This story is told in second person. For example, Instead of I fell down the stairs, the text says “you fell down the stairs”. The lack of this first person writing made for an awkward read. I quickly tired of reading your constantly because I was not in the story, nor was I trying to envision myself in the memoir. It was hard to for me to read this book because I would lose concentration.

On the other hand, Mr. Richard is a skilled writer. He is easily able to get a point across with as few sentences as possible. He does not try to embellish and elaborate in unneeded details, but simply tells it like it is. This brought about a sense of honesty to the story.

Storyline - The story is amazing. It has a little something for everyone. The author’s life is a roller coaster ride full of emotion. The challenges he has faced make his accomplishments more impressive and his story more poignant and bittersweet.

Pace – I have mixed feelings with the pace of this story. It begins solid enough, picks up and then drops off. My interest level varied and the book seemed unable to stay entirely consistent.

Overall – This is indeed an unconventional memoir, remarkable story and challenging read. It is a thought provoking read. I had a hard time with the term “special” in this book; it never seems to be defined as a compliment or an insult. It seemed to be used more as word of avoidance rather than the honesty of reality all for the sake of social pleasantry. Thought the memoir has a few obstacles to overcome it also has a wonderful story to tell. It seems to have a little something for everyone within its pages.

About the Author:
MARK RICHARD is the author of two award-winning short story collections, The Ice at the Bottom of the World and Charity, and the novel Fishboy. His short stories and journalism have appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, Vogue, and GQ. He is the recipient of the PEN/Hemingway Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Whiting Foundation Writer’s Award. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their three sons.


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