Invocations of Malebranche

"The great issues don't need to be vulgarized," observes the narrator of David Slavitt's 15th work of fiction. "They are vulgar, for they are exactly those things that everybody worries about." Of those great issues, perhaps the most inscrutable is the one most poignantly summarized in the title of Rabbi Harold Kushner's 1982 bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Even before the longsuffering life of Job and longer still before Rabbi Kushner came along, the question was this: given the premise of an all-good and all-powerful Creator, how to explain the presence of rampant evil in the world? Crucial and ultimately irresolvable, the question has attracted responses ranging from the self-deluding to the completely mystifying—with Rabbi Kushner's little book, dealing in a tidy brand of self-help theology, tending more in the former direction. By now it's all been said before, and many times over. The wonder of Mr. Slavitt's novel is that it manages to address the problem without ever quite going stale on us, or being—on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis, anyway—less than refreshingly lively.

The narrator in Lives of the Saints is an unnamed reporter for a Florida tabloid, the Star: a middle-aged man with intellectual tastes, once a teacher of remedial composition at a community college, who through failure and despair finds himself reduced to manufacturing...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here