Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Walking with the Spirits

I didn't think I'd like Hank Wesselman's Spiritwalker: Messages from the Future. Mom loaned it to me with very little comment, just as she did with Celestine Prophecy awhile back. I read C.P. thinking that it was an Important Book to her, a book that she Wanted Me to Read. After I read it and was agonizing over how to tell her that as a novel it seemed like it was written by a tenth grader, I found out that she wasn't that keen on it either. She was just curious what I'd think of it. So I didn't have the pressure of thinking that she was married to Spiritwalker or that she thought it was a book that would Change My Life.

Because she didn't say much about it, I opened it thinking it was going to be a kind of how-to manual. When I discovered it was written with chapters that alternate between fantasy novel, anthropology lessons, and musings on spiritual discovery, I was a little put-off. As I read on, though, I began to enjoy the fantasy novel; the anthropology lessons were engaging; and the spiritual musings didn't get in the way too much. In the end, though, the fantasy novel's plotline just sort of trails off, which is a little disappointing, and I was ready for the book to be finished long before I turned the last page.

I like to listen to audiobooks in the car, so now that I'm reading actual paper books in addition, it makes for interesting point-counterpoint. I had the Avery Brooks-read version of Alex Haley's Roots coloring my perception of Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion, for example. And for Spiritwalker, and now for Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis, I have Barack Obama reading his own Audacity of Hope. It was kind of a cool juxtaposition, with Wesselman's assurances of the collapse of at least the United States, Canada, and Mexico and the end of metal-based technology against Obama's assurances that if we all just act like reasonable people, everything will be fine.

I could say more about my impressions of Wesselman himself, but I'm trying to be less snarky these days. Oh, all right, since you twisted my arm. I was amused by his glossing over of the ethical issue of entering the body of another man without, at least at first, his knowledge or permission, even during his most personal and private moments, like lovemaking. Wesselman says on the one hand that he felt a little guilty about it, but hey, what can you do, he can't control these episodes, and besides, the Hawaiian 5,000 years in the future that he's possessing is probably his own descendant and perhaps even a reincarnation of himself, so really, there's no dilemma. On the other hand, he says repeatedly that traveling in the spirit world is a matter of intention and clearly wants to and tries to re-establish his contact with Nainoa even before he comes to the conclusion that he is or may be both himself and his own descendant.

So there's that. And there's his unapologetic and to me, inappropriate, attraction to Nainoa's woman, whom he essentially shags while in Nainoa's body. And to the chick at the Buddhist retreat whose sleeve he stares up to get a look at her boob. Nice!

I guess the real question of the book, though, is: do I believe his story? I don't know. I have no experience in my own life that would lead me to believe that what he did is possible, but I have no experience in my own life that would lead me to believe that what Olympic athletes accomplish is possible either. It does seem more than a little convenient, though. With no experience, training, or intention, he stumbles into an ability that he himself says requires a lot of work, a lot of practice, and very focused and specific intention. He explains it by saying that, hey, sometimes the spirits just give this stuff to those that deserve it. Maybe so, but I guess the spirits don't hold humility in very high esteem.

So, not great, not bad. I guess after I take a little break with a couple of novels, I'll try another of his books that may be more of the how-to manual I thought this one was going to be. But Wesselman also warns us not to go messing around in the spirit world out of curiosity, though he did just that. The spirits, he says, do not take kindly to that kind of thing, so one should have a reason and a destination, though he at first had neither. So help me out, internets, where should I go? On a cross-millenial booty call?

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