This is a curious book. It looks like and is officially categorized as nonfiction, even featuring thirteen chapter-end "exercises" that walk readers through a very specific how-to process. But actually it is a contemporary, fictional narrative, telling the story of a middle-aged, dysfunctional couple living in Denver. Husband John Martin, unhappy with his employment, drinks too much and is estranged from his college-aged son. Wife Carol Martin thrives on jealousy, suspicion and criticism.
The book shouldn't be read as a novel (it doesn't work) but as an extended case study. In the introduction, Miller makes his purposes clear. "Whatever else you may learn by means of this fictional story, my point in writing the book is to illustrate life-changing processes, and what it takes to actually create new vocations or build significant businesses or professions --- and satisfying lives, in real time."
Miller further identifies "four objectives for the awakening of your unspoken dreams and the transformational journey toward achieving them." His list? "1. to discover and define clearly some of your specific options and dreams that awaken your passion to achieve them"; "2. to explore the feasibility of these dreams…"; "3. to commit to accomplish the dream…"; "4. to address personal and relationship problems and questions of meaning that arise…"
The process orientation and case-study tone is evident in chapter titles, for example, "The Alchemy of Transforming Dreams into Concrete Goals," A Daily Interpersonal Communication Process," "Evicting Ancient Father Feelings," and "Discovering Denied Personal Defects."
As for the narrative: In opening chapters, John Martin's stress-related heart trouble prompts him to take a few weeks of R&R in Switzerland, where he --- suddenly awaking with chest pains --- meets Dr. Charles Magie, "the only physician on the mountain." The much older Magie prescribes Zantac and Valium, befriends the foreigner, and invites him to his home study for conversation. So begins a cross-continent Magie-Martin family counseling-mentoring relationship that rather quickly changes John's career path and, over the next ten years, transforms the dynamics of his family.
The plot line includes some ugly relational twists, sometimes followed by many pages of therapeutic conversation between one or both of the Martins and Magie. These conversations, and even some between John and Carol themselves, are replete with psychological terms. "This room was just filled with a message from your inner wisdom, Carol, about how your dream search together might provide the personal nurturance you missed as a child."
Blatantly religious elements of Magie's counseling aren't evident until the last third of the book (starting in chapter 31: "Is There Any Help Out There? A Probe"), and then Magie's --- or Miller's --- presentation of the Christian faith will disappoint conservative believers. (There's no mention of atonement for sin; there's a strong emphasis on surrender of control to God, along the lines of principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.)
At the end of the book there is a page-long "autobiographical word" by Miller, whose first book, THE TASTE OF NEW WINE, sold phenomenally in the 1970s. His own journey since feels germane to this WHAT TO DO WITH THE REST OF YOUR LIFE theme. Traveling, speaking, earning graduate degrees in theology and counseling --- "The pressure of all the attention and material success (I'd prayed for) was too much for me to handle. I began to drink too much and had what we Americans call a full-blown midlife crisis." His marriage ended. He sought treatment. He entered a "desert experience" that would last fifteen years. Now remarried, he and writer-wife Andrea are "enjoying life on the edge of the adventure of faith" --- which is where we also leave characters John and Carol Martin.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011