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The Wishing Year: A House, a Man, My Soul - A Memoir of Fulfilled Desire by Noelle Oxenhandler
The Wishing Year: A House, a Man, My Soul - A Memoir of Fulfilled Desire

Teresa Lowe, July 13, 2008

I loved The Wishing Year! I found it a beautifully written exploration of wishing for your heart’s desire, shining with intelligence and gentle humor. In this wonderful book, Noelle Oxenhandler leads readers on an engaging and enlightening journey through her yearlong experiment with wishing. Oxenhandler is not one to easily embrace New Age ideas or magical thinking, and wishing does not come naturally to her. In order to begin making shrines and sending messages to the universe about what she most wants in her life, Oxenhandler must confront what she calls her “skeptical bent and…tilt toward a certain pessimistic melancholy,” along with a Jewish-Catholic upbringing and many years as a practicing Buddhist. But as she begins her first tentative steps toward manifesting three deep desires — to buy a house of her own, to find a man to love, and to gain spiritual healing — and the universe starts sending pieces of those desires her way, she is hooked.

Oxenhandler is remarkably well read, and she gracefully weaves myth, religion, anthropology, and psychology into the story of her own experiences. Equally at home with Zen Buddhist principles, the philosophy of magic, and the archetypal meaning of Aunt Jemima, Oxenhandler draws readers along on an inner and outer voyage whose landscape includes her own resistance and bouts of despair, the hot springs of Northern California, and healing encounters in Hawaii, Mexico and France.

I found Oxenhandler’s writing beautifully lyrical, filled with passages of luminous intelligence and moments of impish humor. Her story made me think about my own travels away from skepticism, which began 22 years ago when I left the East Coast — where I’d spent many years studying philosophy in Ivy League universities — to settle in Northern California, where the world seemed so much wider and filled with so many more possibilities than I’d previously imagined. After finishing Oxenhandler’s book, though, I can tell I haven’t ranged far enough. I think I may need to go out and buy some joint compound and balsa wood, to start building a few shrines of my own!

One caveat: I suspect that some readers may wish for a deeper level of personal revelation, may want to know the gory details behind crises that Oxenhandler refers to almost in passing — the ending of her marriage or the collapse of her spiritual community that bring the author to the book’s jumping off point. On my reading, the book is not about what about brought her there, but about the journey she makes from that point on. The story begins when Oxenhandler becomes ready to suspend disbelief and give herself over to the project of wishing for her heart’s desire. And that is where the gifts of this lovely book lie — in the story of how your life can change, once you let yourself believe that just maybe, wishing can make it so.
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