Book review THE BOOK OF WHY by Nicholas Montemarano

This novel is about Eric, the broken author of motivational self help books. Eric has made a fortune by telling people that that can do anything they want if they have a positive attitude and believe it possible. He is broken because, despite all that he has written and the inspirational lectures he has given, he could not stop his beloved wife from dying.

He retires from the world and lives in a remote cottage in Martha's Vineyard with only his wife's old German shepherd dog, Ralph, for company. There he is found by Sam, a woman who has read all his books and believes all he taught. Yet she too is battling problems of her own. Together they begin a journey that is a search for meaning. He tries unsuccessfully to write his next book which addresses the “why” question. This is the real question that Eric and Sam and struggling to answer, namely why is it that when people do all the right things crap still happens?

The book is dark journey through the sub-conscious emotions of desire, love and guilt. The plot is not straightforward and in places confusing and the ending is ambiguous. The characters are not very likeable but become understandable. The book explores the vacuous hype peddled by motivational life coaches and comes to the conclusion that theologians have long known that suffering is a mystery and the things that happen can afflict good and bad people alike. (theodicy?)

For me one of the best parts of the book was the loving portrayal of the dog Ralph who is a constant feature through Eric's life: courtship, marriage and widowhood. At the end of the book the old dog dies and I was left wondering how Eric will live without Ralph. But that is part of the ambiguity of the ending.

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