Jan's Reviews > House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home

House of Prayer No. 2 by Mark Richard
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Jan 09, 12

Read in July, 2011

The rave reviews that led me to Mark Richard’s House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home were right. I read this poetic, addictive memoir in a day, lost in the story of a “special child” who grows up to be a writer. As a boy in southern Virginia, Mark’s spinal disabilities meant spending months away from his family in Richmond’s Crippled Children’s Hospital (they really called it that!) encased in plaster. Neither the pain nor the difficulty walking ever left him, yet he never whines or wishes for a different life or uses his disability as a reason not to try anything; his stoicism is amazing.

As a young man he leaves college and his family to work on fishing boats and live in squalor, committing most of the sins of youth. Finally he meets the writing teacher and the woman who will help him find purpose. He becomes a husband, father, and successful writer. Eventually he returns to his childhood home to help rebuild a church--the House of Prayer of the title--and rejoin a community where he had once belonged.

The details of Richard’s wandering life are enough to keep you turning pages, but it’s the beauty of his words that makes this book a keeper. The unusual use of “you” for “I” and the nautical metaphors in the following passage are typical of his poetic style:

“You are lost at sea in New York City, headphones on, Bible tract in your back pocket, the seafaring novel roaring in your head, the heaving concrete, headlong black foaming ocean, a pitched deck where men hold on for life in the shadows, a Master somewhere on the upper deck, unseen but seeing, seeing you, no urgency, no destination, no end to the night, you sail under reefed sail, a stranger pulls you by your collar from stepping in front of an express bus on Fifty-seventh Street.”

What also struck me about this book is its emotional tone. I felt as if I were sitting at a kitchen table with the author as he spun out the stories of his life. In spite of the pain he suffered and the mistakes he made, there is never a hint of self-pity or sentimentalism. Under all his words flows a stream of understated faith and a sense of humbleness I found very moving. I’d like to meet this guy.
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