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Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country in Betweenby Jeff Sharlet
Synopses & Reviews
No one explores the borderlands of belief and skepticism quite like Jeff Sharlet. He is ingenious, farsighted, and able to excavate the worlds of others, even the flakiest and most fanatical, with uncanny sympathy. Here, he reports back from the far reaches of belief, whether in the clear mountain air of "Sweet Fuck All, Colorado" or in a midnight congregation of urban anarchists celebrating a victory over police.
From Dr. Cornel West to legendary banjo player Dock Boggs, from the youth evangelist Ron Luce to America's largest "Mind, Body, Spirit Expo," Sharlet profiles religious radicals, realists, and escapists. Including extended journeys published here for the first time, Sweet Heaven When I Die offers a portrait of our spiritual landscape that calls to mind Joan Didion's classic Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
"In a wide-ranging collection of personal essays, Sharlet (The Family) provides various takes on faith in the form of profiles of a diverse group among the faithful and the faithless including a politician, a philosopher, an anarchist, a Yiddish novelist, and a group of evangelical teens. One essay follows a New Age healer who makes good business 'cleansing' homes of bad vibes for a surprising number of New York City's real estate brokerages ('Sondra's healing services were no sillier or more profound than the idea that by dunking yourself in water, you experience death and resurrection'). The author sometimes slips into easy armchair philosophizing, but the sketches themselves offer nuanced and genuinely touching portraits of people from all walks, giving impressions of evangelicals in the throes of doubt as well as skeptics who want badly to be religious, but can't bring themselves to it. Although the essays have the theme of faith in common, the diversity of their individual subjects is less a virtue than a lack of focus that may disappoint some readers, while others may be interested in working to discern, or invent for themselves, the points of intersection among these essays. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Sharp and intimate." Rolling Stone
"Superb....Compelling....Stunning....A fine book, by a deeply thoughtful writer." Steve Yarbrough
"A Must-Read....Brilliant portraits of the religious fringe...fleshed out in lush three-dimensional detail — a lifetime in a dozen pages, a biography distilled to its purest elements....Sharlet impresses with his ability to mine the common humanity that lingers in even the most radically minded thinkers." The Oregonian
"The characters in Sweet Heaven When I Die are rough, unfulfilled, often doomed. But that's what makes this collection so strong, so human. We always suspect that by the end, they will be betrayed by their beliefs, will be disillusioned or destroyed. But failure doesn't make belief meaningless. It may be the only thing that gives faith meaning at all." The Daily Beast
"For Sharlet, the story of American religion is not a polarized one of fundamentalists vs. secularists. It's a vast landscape, and each essay in his remarkable new collection of literary journalism explores a different crag or cranny of it....There's no better guide to this 'country in between.'" Kansas City Star
"The book belongs to the tradition of long-form, narrative journalism best exemplified by writers such as Joan Didion, John McPhee, Norman Mailer and Sharlet's contemporary David Samuels. Sharlet deserves a place alongside such masters, for he has emerged as a master investigative stylist and one of the shrewdest commentators on religion's underexplored realms." Brook Wilensky-Lanford The Boston Globe
"[A] collection of beautifully written narratives....Sharlet's previous works have incisively critiqued fundamentalism and American power; Sweet Heaven is equally thoughtful, but tender, acknowledging that between the extremes of snake handlers and nihilists, most of us wander through life groping for meaning, with consolation that in the act of finding, we too, may be found." Michael Washburn The Washington Post
"Part reporter, part prophet, Jeff Sharlet is an American visionary in the lineage that runs from Twain to Robinson Jeffers to Sam Shepard and Joan Didion. In Sweet Heaven When I Die, he scours the desert margins of our culture, politics, and religion, training his eye on outlaws, anarchists, fanatics, and saints. In this way, he reveals the unexpected shape of our nation's center, which is to say, our heart." Durham, NC Independent
Linked narrative nonfiction from the best-selling author of The Family.
About the Author
Jeff Sharlet is the author of The Family, C Street, and Sweet Heaven When I Die, and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and Harper's. He teaches creative nonfiction at Dartmouth College and lives in New Hampshire.
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