Am höchsten bewertete kritische Rezension
Searching for Spiritual Meaning
am 23. April 2007
How To Be Good is one of those books that flirts with an idea strong enough to be a great book, but doesn't execute well enough. As such, it's a marvelous study for novelists of what to do and not to do . . . but is unnecessarily heavy going for the reader. If you want to feel challenged about what kind of a life to lead, you will probably find this book resonates. If you are pretty satisfied with your principles, this book will seem like a lot of ado about very little.
In case you haven't heard what the plot is, the protagonist is Dr. Katie Carr, a woman who is proud to be a physician and who wants to be a good wife, mother and citizen. She finds that being a physician uses up her emotional resources, and before the end of the day she's not giving her patients her all. By the time she arrives at home, she's not really there. Her husband, David, is a very angry man . . . who gets attention from others through his anger. Katie has wandered into an uninspiring affair with a man who doesn't please her sexually as much as David does. At the edge of a divorce, David refuses to let her go.
One of David's sources of anger is his back pain. Nothing seems to work until he meets a lay healer whose touch warms and removes pain. Presto, the pain is gone! But David also seems to lose his anger, and is compulsively driven to do good. If a homeless person needs money, David gives him all that Katie and he have on them . . . except for Tube fares. The family has three computers . . . surely they should give one to poor children. Many neighbors have extra bedrooms. Why shouldn't homeless people be installed there?
The book's opening is a bit hard to take. It's a painful description of a painful marriage. That part could have been greatly shortened up. The meat of the story is in David's attempts to do good, and Katie's less than enthusiastic reactions to those attempts. David's sensibilities open up horizons for doing good that had never occurred to me. On the other hand, the search for spiritual growth was doomed from the start as a story. The healer discovered his abilities through taking too many drugs, rather than through some religious or spiritual activity. That makes the whole search seem inauthentic. Katie and her family seem antireligious, although she does seek out a sort of religious counseling about her marriage.
The real subject of the book seems to be the spiritual deadness that many people feel. Personally, I found the questions of our responsibilities to other people to be more interesting. The book was flawed from this moral point of view by overindulging in considering things that don't work . . . rather than in emphasizing what might. For instance, many people around the world respond in constructive ways to the homeless problem by donating time and energy to Habitat for Humanity International. A story about how a spiritual dead marriage was affected by working with that organization would have been intriguing.
There are many funny moments in the book, especially when Katie's hypocritical views are tested. One of my favorites is when her clinic is overrun with people who want nonmedical healing after Katie brings in the healer to touch one of her patients. Katie doesn't want to give up her authority as a physician, even if people cannot be helped by her. So she refuses to bring the healer back.
If you decide to read this book, I encourage you to consider the Recorded Books version (which is unabridged) and is ably narrated by Jenny Sterlin. She does a fine job of making a painful story seem more real.
I was left with the thought of how I might do more to help the homeless in ways that I find spiritual uplifting and will be inspiring for those I love. That's a pretty nice benefit from a novel.