Book Reviews

Reynolds Price, Letter to a Godchild (Concerning Faith) (New York: Scribner, 2006), 95pp.Reynolds Price, Letter to a Godchild (Concerning Faith) (New York: Scribner, 2006), 95pp.

           This slender volume originated as a gift to Reynolds Price's godson back in the year 2000. He has expanded the original letter in order to describe "succinctly, and as honestly as I could manage, the advancing line of my own religious life, [so that] I might provide a useful sense of how one person's existence shaped itself round an early inexplicable event and moved onward from there till now, the start of my eighth decade" (he was born in 1933). His intention is not to write a children's book, or even a book to read to children, but to produce "a document that would be genuinely helpful to a friend in his early adult years."

           The "inexplicable event" that Price mentions was a vision that he had when he was only six or seven of a wheel that symbolized the intimate unity of the vast complexity of all life, all of which was cared for by a benevolent power. Combined with beloved Bible story books, and then his own reading of the Bible, Price wrote himself into the narrative of the Christian story early on. By age seventeen he knew he wanted to be a writer and a teacher, and by any measure he has enjoyed enormous success and acclaim—professor of English at Duke University since 1958, author of thirty-seven volumes of fiction, poetry, essays and plays that have been translated into seventeen languages, and a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

           After graduating from Duke and then Oxford University, Price began his tenure back at Duke. By that time he still understood himself to be distinctly and intentionally Christian, even though his "renegade" faith has expressed itself ever since in decidedly non-institutional and unorthodox ways. At age fifty-one tragedy struck when he was diagnosed with cancer of the spinal cord. Subsequent treatments resulted in the entire paralysis of his lower body. At this point Price recounts a second vision, more vivid and profound than the first, of standing in the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus washed his massive surgical scar and pronounced over him words of healing and forgiveness. In his mind he was miraculously healed, for against the medical prognosis of his doctors, Price survived both the cancer and the barbaric radiation treatments. He writes eloquently about how his life has flourished in far richer ways because of his paraplegia. In the last few pages of his testimonial Price offers his godson practical advice for spiritual formation, including suggested readings, serving the poor, identifying with saints, and frequenting sacred spaces.