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 Short Story Collection Review    

 

 

Killing the Buddha:
A Heretic's Bible

by Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet
Free Press, 2004
Hardcover, $25.00 (292 pages)
ISBN: 0-7432-3276-3
 
 
 
"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."-- Lin Chi


The premise of Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet's anthology -- a search for "religion on the road" -- took them around the country.  Many of the stories included in Killing the Buddha have Southern settings -- Henderson, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Broward County, Florida; An Orange Grove, somewhere in Florida; and Nashville, Tennessee --  which seems appropriate in that very few places embrace religion -- be it fundamentalist, charismatic or neo-traditional -- with the same fervor as the Bible Belt.

Like many Americans who have rejected, redefined, and/or embraced the faiths of their childhood, the editors acknowledge their debts to their parents' beliefs. Peter Manseau is the son of a Catholic priest and a former nun. He studied religion and literature at the University of Massachusetts and Boston University. Jeff Sharlet was reared in the Jewish faith of his father as well as the Pentecostal/Hindu/Buddhist traditions of his mother. They began working together at a National Yiddish Book Center. Their collaboration eventually led them to found the online literary magazine KillingTheBuddha.com .

Killing the Buddha intersperses thirteen stories from the road with thirteen retelling of the Bible's best-known stories by American writers. The resulting anthology is extraordinary. A. L. Kennedy, Francine Prose, Michael Lesy, le' thi diem thuy', April Reynolds, Peter Trachtenberg, Darcey Steinke, Charles Bowden, Melvin Jules Buklet, Eileen Myles, Rick Moody, Randall Kenan, and Haven Kimmel approach the Bible with affection, joy, terror, humor, pathos, and appreciation. Their essays and stories intertwine creating the kind of book one wants to share with friends for the sheer pleasure of comparing notes and debate. Manseau and Sharlet's stories from the road constitute contemporary Psalms, and are too weird, funny, and ironic to toss off as one-liners.

Killing the Buddha, subtitled A Hereticís Bible, has much to say about the spiritual state of America. Thought-provoking and fascinating, the editors and authors remind humans that recognizing faith is more complicated than it seems.

 
Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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