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The Son of Laughter

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  628 ratings  ·  79 reviews
Rich in family drama, passion, and human affinity, critically acclaimed author Frederick Buechner's contemporary retelling of this captivating and timeless biblical saga revitalizes the ancient story of Jacob, delighted our senses and modern sensibilities and gracing us with his exceptional eloquence and wit.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 19th 1994 by HarperOne (first published 1993)
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Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star-books
Once upon a time, there was an old man who was called the Friend of the Fear. He was already 99 years old when the Fear promised to make him a father of a multitude of nations. But how was that possible when he had no children and his wife was past child-bearing? Yet not only was the Fear true to his word, he also had a great sense of humor. The Friend of the Fear beget a son at age 100 and called him Laughter.

If you had been attentive in Sunday School, you would recognize this as the story of
Jan 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Got this for Christmas. It's one of Buechner's sad, earthy fictions, this time about the Biblical character of Jacob.

Buechner writes so immediately about being human. There are few writers I enjoy reading more. His work is entirely free of frivolity and distraction, and offers a sublime view of people completely engaged in living their lives, a wonder no matter what they suffer. Like Tolstoy, he writes about individuals in all their glorious individual strangeness, like they're your family. From
Jamie Howison
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is the third time I've read this extraordinary novel. Every sermon I've ever preached on the Genesis stories of the matriarchs and patriarchs bears the imprint of this book... if I could give it a sixth star, I would!
Oct 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If you’re a purist like me, you might be skeptical about retelling a story that is beautiful in its original form. Indeed, a biblical story retold with added imagination might frighten or even offend you. But not so with Frederick Buechnar’s retelling of Jacob’s story. In Son of Laughter, Buechnar imaginative telling of Jacob’s story puts a spotlight on God’s use of deeply flawed humans. With well planned artistry and pastoral ingenuity, Buechnar’s Son of Laughter reminds readers that the God of ...more
Edoardo Albert
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Have you ever actually read the Bible? I mean, sat down and read it, as a book, from start to finish. It's strange - deeply, unsettlingly weird. And it's at its strangest at the start and at the end: in the books of the Torah, and in particular the book of Genesis, and in the Apocalypse of the world's ending amid a welter of lambs and dragons and incomprehensible imagery. (Actually, there's one other area where it is particularly weird, but repetition has dulled its strangeness, and that is in J ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is my second time reading this beautiful book. Luck, blessing, dreams, love, life, death, trickery, cleverness, betrayal ... and evocative language. I am interested to see what my book club thinks of it.
I first became acquainted with this book after reading an excerpt of it in another book, and decided then and there to read it. The Son of Laughter is a retelling of the story of Jacob (and by extension, Issac, Joseph, and even maybe Abraham) - his life, his family, and his encounters with God.

Frederick Buechner is, first of all, a fantastic writer. His prose is elegant. His retelling is delightfully detailed and imaginative, while still faithful enough to the Biblical text enough to to satisfy
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This book was an incredible read. I rarely encounter a book draws me in to a familiar world and so thoroughly changes how I see that world. This is a creative telling of the life of Jacob, the biblical patriarch. For someone accustomed to Sunday School Old Testament lessons, Beuchner's story telling did not gently expand my imagination- he exploded it with force and beauty and some terror too.

After reading this book I am floored by the grace and mystery of God. Son Of Laughter was very help
Jan 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-fiction
When another person puts into words what I want to say better than I ever could on my own, I have no qualms quoting them. And so here is Joel's review:

"Whenever he applies his re-imagination to the story of a saint or of characters in the Bible, Buechner always manages in his own way to (1) capture how radically foreign these characters are to my own perspective, experience and sensibilities, and (2) to work out in a ramshackle way what it could look like to embody what it means to be God's bles
Janyre Tromp
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's obvious why Buechner was nominated for a Pulitzer. His descriptions are inventive with startling clarity even inside their unfamiliarity. My only complaint is the author's jump to Joseph's story at the end...Jacob's dreaming of his son's life is so vivid and detailed that it loses the dream sense and merely tells the story from Joseph's point of view.
Jim V
Sep 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
Here's a tip. Don't waste your time. If you want a better and the true story of Joseph read your Bible. How do these crap recommendations keep showing up in my Goodreads Historical Fiction feed?
Dec 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Be wary of God's blessings ...
Stephen Case
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
The beautiful always surprise us. Everything else in the world we expect as we expect weariness at the day’s end and sun at waking. (171)

I’ve read a bit of Frederic Buechner, though not nearly as much as he deserves. Godric remains a favorite. In that novel, I especially love the way Buechner writes the prose with a cadence that makes it feels like I’m reading a poem or a song.

This latest, The Son of Laughter, was recommended by a good friend, and it tells the story of the Biblical patriarch Ja
Jonathan Hiskes
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Buechner retells the action-packed Biblical story of Jacob. The novel is bawdy, salty, funny, vivid, violent, crude, heartbreaking--exactly what I needed to rescue the saga from the over-familiarity of Sunday School versions. I've read this novel, my favorite from one of my favorite authors, three times or so, and it's been as life-giving as any an preaching, imagining, analyzing, or parsing of Scripture I've ever found.

“In all I had ten sons and one daughter by Leah and the two maids. Even with
Christian Smith
I'm not totally sure what to think of this book, but I like it. Others certainly thought highly of it when it came out some 30 years ago - it was the winner of Christianity Today’s Critic’s Choice Award 1994 and the MLA’s Conference on Christianity and Literature’s Book of the Year 1993.

It's raw! The Bible already pulls no punches, but this the story of Jacob told while the censors were at lunch. It's the Biblical narrative with the cultural color commentary added showing Isaac, Jacob, Esau, and
Brock Meier
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Son of Laughter is not simply a retelling of the mostly familiar story of Jacob/Israel, but in some sense, it is the story of every man. Though the cultural differences between the Middle East of a few millennia ago and our own are vast, we are now what we have always been. Even in the midst of our current time and place, where we have stripped out much of the raw spiritual savor of life and replaced it with eyeballs glued to electronic screens, the same innate aspirations and weaknesses eit ...more
Jonathan Crabb
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Buechner is my favorite writer above all and every time I read one of his books, I am amazed that I haven’t read more of him. This book is around the life of Jacob from birth to death. It is rich in detail and Buechner’s style of writing is one of the joys of my life. Much like the stories in the Bible, it has it all - joy, sorrow, regret and hope.
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written and compelling story. How much is fact and how much is fiction - we will never know but it never strays too far from the biblical account (although now that I have finished it I need to re-read Genesis 25-28). From a literary perspective it is extraordinary. A book to read many times over.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fear “makes us promises about life. I do not know what he promises to the dead if he promises anything,”

This book is about life.
James R
Apr 23, 2015 rated it liked it
My three star rating of The Son of Laughter is admittedly harsh since it reflects more my reaction to the story than the quality of the writing. I fully realize this is a re-telling of the ancient Biblical origin story of Jacob, so to fault Frederick Buechner for the story is pretty irrational. I actually think he did quite well with the material with which he had to work. He fleshed out details, characters and events that are certainly present in the source and in the process offered fresh insi ...more
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
I think that Buechner is an amazing author.

While I was disappointed with THE STORM (and I realize that I'm in the minority on that), this book was quite exceptional.

First, I didn't realize, before reading it, that it would be an historical fiction account of Jabob (of Jacob and Esau notariety). I have to admit that I might not have been as eager to read it, had I been aware of that. There's something about historical biblical fiction that has not held a great deal of appeal to me. That might ch
Apr 04, 2012 rated it liked it
I read this book on recommendation from a friend. She loves this book and wanted to share it with me. Now, it was a far cry from the young adult literature that I have gotten used to reading, and I wondered what I was going to get out of it. Buechner beautifully crafted this earthy drama covering the life of the Biblical forefather Jacob. Although his writing style is terrific and I enjoyed his literary genius, the walk-away message for me came at the end of the novel: "[God] makes us no promise ...more
Tristan Sherwin
Aug 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Frederick Buechner has done a beautiful job of grafting flesh onto the biblical story of Jacob.

As a master storyteller, Buechner's prose provides an immersive experience into the sights, sounds, and smells of ancient nomadic culture. It's raw, gritty, sweaty and brimming with the harsh realities and beauties of life.

Buechner's biographical portrayal cuts no corners. His words capture both the dark and the light of the human and divine dance; giving voice to ancient perspective and passion. Yes,
gabrielle darnell
Jul 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
I often stay away from novels that elaborate on Biblical stories because I don't want to an untrue image/characterization to stick with me as I read the Bible. BUT, I am glad I read The Son of Laughter -- the story of Jacob and the covenant family that he sprang from and gave birth to. Buechner gave blood and sweat and flesh to the Biblical patriarchs. He showed God to be the fierce, mysterious, and faithful being that He is, calling Him "the Fear". I saw the pain and tenderness of a man's heart ...more
Philippe Lazaro
Jun 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: christian
He makes us promises about life. I do not know what he promises to the dead if he promises anything... He speaks to us sometimes in dreams that are like torches to light our way through the dark. He gives us daughters and sons so our seed may live after us and the promises he has made us may be kept to the world’s luck and blessing. Perhaps that is enough.
–Frederick Buechner

I’ve always wanted to read something by Buechner, and my friend Chris helped make that happen by letting me borrow Son of L
Mar 21, 2009 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed the story in this book, but the style was not great for me.

This a major part of Genesis told from Jacob's point of view. This has long been one of my favorite parts of the Bible- I love the story of Jacob working fourteen years for Rachel, of him & his brother, and of course the story of Joseph, Jacob's 11th son is probably my all time fave. So. I was super excited when a friend let me borrow this.

And I did like it. But the writing just wasn't my style. I can't pinpoint exa
Dec 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a very entertaining account of the book of Genesis the Bible.
Buechner brings it to life with vivid descriptions of the day to day thoughts and practices of the ancient peoples. I don't know how many times I encountered the word dung or spittle...
This book was fun to read and also shed light on ancient nomadic life in the time of the biblical patriarchs.
He often seems to take an alternate reading or interpretation in scriptural accounts that might upset people - But not really in major wa
Jan 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Much recommended to me, I finally picked up this historical fiction about the life of the Old Testament character, Jacob. I've enjoyed Buechner's nonfiction thoroughly and wasn't sure i could get into this, but once he snared me with his writing style, I couldn't put it down. Although based on the Bible, this isn't for the faint of heart--a lot of grit here, both sexual and violent, but written in a poetic, non-offensive way. If you've ever wanted the Bible to read more realistically, I highly r ...more
Aug 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
An imaginative retelling of the biblical story of Jacob & his family. It was certainly more satisfying than the other book by Buechner that I have read, and more satisfying, too, than Norman Mailer's retelling of the Jesus narrative. Mailer seemed bound by the biblical narrative, except at certain odd points he rejected (NOT the miracles, however); Buechner, on the other hand, seemed inspired by Jacob's story. He went well beyond it in creating details & interpreting events, though when ...more
Mar 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
You can't beat the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and their families for drama and interest. I had read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant years ago which told much the same story as this, fleshing out the Bible's account by telling it from the women's point of view, and going beyond it to tell more about Jacob's daughter, Dinah. The Son of Laughter was less detailed (except for certain aspects) and more poetic than The Red Tent. I think that The Red Tent made more of an impression on me beca ...more
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Frederick Buechner is a highly influential writer and theologian who has won awards for his poetry, short stories, novels and theological writings. His work pioneered the genre of spiritual memoir, laying the groundwork for writers such as Anne Lamott, Rob Bell and Lauren Winner.

His first book, A Long Day's Dying, was published to acclaim just two years after he graduated from Princeton. He entere
“The Shield was another of the Fear's names. According to Laughter, it means he shields the seed of Abraham the way a man starting a fire shields the flame. When Sarah was about to die childless, the Fear gave her a son. When Abraham was about to slaughter the son, the Fear gave him the ram. He is always shielding us like a guttering wick, Laughter said, because the fire he is trying to start with us is a fire that the whole world will live to warm its hands at. It is a fire in the dark that will light the whole world home.” 6 likes
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