Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Have a Little Faith, by Mitch Albom

I know I'm swimming against the current when I say that Albom's "Have a Little Faith" just didn't do it for me. "Believe me," which is what my octogenarian father always says, I'm disappointed to say this. I love reading about spirituality. I love finding stories that remind me that we all connect at the most fundamental level.

Albom has a great premise: the octogenarian rabbi of his childhood synagogue asks him to write his eulogy. Albom, describing himself as the stereotypical lapsed Jew, agrees. In order to write the eulogy, Albom begins to get to know the rabbi. Interspersed with the telling of his visits to the rabbi's house, he tells of his relationship with another man: a poor, ex-con, former drug addict, African-American preacher.

The back and forth that Albom employs in "Have a Little Faith" feels like an easy, mass-market device. Yes, Mitch, we can see that these two spiritual leaders are as different as two men could possibly be, and yes, Mitch, we can see that their belief in a higher power is the common denominator. But I don't think Albom did himself, or us, any favors by weaving the story of these men's lives this way. By structuring the book within the framework of this cheap and easy trick, both stories devolve into superficial character studies. The many facets and incongruities of each of these potentially fascinating characters have been pounded down into until they look flat and stereotypical - - and this does not make for compelling, thought-provoking reading.

And, by the way, am I the only one out here who found the character of the rabbi, as Albom describes him, as incredibly annoying? He is rendered by Albom as an "altacocker", cracker-brained, and breaking into old ditties at random moments. "Believe me!" I love all the peculiarities of old Jewish men -- the hearing loss; the herring breath; the hard candies -- but this is one old Jewish man I couldn't cotton to at all. And when I find myself endlessly annoyed by one of a book's main characters, it's hard to have even a little bit of faith.

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