I finished this book just before the new year, then immediately reread it and finished it again yesterday. I needed the time to process and absorb it. It has some of what I think would be considered postmodern elements, and I needed the re-read to help me separate the fiction from the philosophy of how to view the world.
Richard (the narrator, not the author) meets Donald Shimoda while barnstorming: flying from farm town to farm town and taking locals for airplane rides. Donald used to be a messiah but “quit” the job because people weren’t listening to him. Don is also a barnstormer, and he and Richard begin traveling together from town to town. He teaches Richard how the world works, and the novel essentially shows vignettes of those teachings. As near as I can tell, the “reluctant messiah” part of the subtitle refers to both Richard and Don, but perhaps more so to Don.
My personal spiritual beliefs don’t align with what is professed in the novel. I don’t know if they align with the author’s either. For example, it’s clear that in the world of Illusions, people live multiple lifetimes. There’s also a certain perspective of who and what G-d is (generally referred to as the “Is” in the book). But there is a lot of sound advice. One of my co-workers recommends this to therapy clients dealing with existential anxiety, and I think that’s a good recommendation. It also fits with various cognitive-behavioral models. It’s basically about recognizing how we build and interpret reality and about not depending on others for our happiness or relying on them to live our lives for us.
A couple of lines that stood out to me: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours” (p. 100). “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts” (p. 71). I really like that latter quote as a way to re-frame problems: Is it actually a problem or is it a situation that you happen to perceive as a problem? If it is a problem, is there something you can learn from it? Or, after the fact, is there meaning to make from it?
The writing itself is fine but not stellar. There are times where the narrator seems a little unreliable, and I can’t tell if that’s intentional. There are also times that foreboding foreshadowing is used, and I still don’t understand why because generally Richard seems pretty content with how things turned out.
This is an easy read. 192 pages, and it’s a small book with decent sized font (or at least my version is), so it doesn’t take long to get through. I recommend it, and I’m planning to keep my copy. I underlined parts of it that resonated with me and I’m hoping to return to the book, or at least to those quotes, when life feels challenging or even just when I think I could use the reminders.