Schickler's 'Dark Path' Is A Humorous But Largely Superficial Memoir
Published: Sunday, September 15, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 15, 2013 21:09
Augustine prays, “Dear Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.”
It’s a trope familiar to anyone in Christian society: the licentious struggles of a man who strives to be chaste. It is David running off to Bathsheba. It is Augustine peeking through his tear-drenched hands to check out some of the Milanese talent while crying in the garden. It is some of the men on this campus—God bless you, every one. And it is the author of The Dark Path, a new book that focuses on the trials and tribulations presented by feminine allure for men who want to be closer to God.
The book is a new memoir by David Schickler. It is his first memoir and third book, following his best-selling short-story collection, Kissing in Manhattan and novel, Sweet and Vicious. Its story is David’s life, from youth to adulthood, centered on the sentiment of the preceding quote and paragraph. It is a story about personal struggle, God, sex, women, values, identity, and more sex. There really is a lot of sex in this book.
The account begins with a 10-year-old David eyeing a girl in one of the pews ahead of him, trying to muster the strength to act on his nascent feelings of attraction. Rooting him strongly in his seat, other than youthful timidity, is the voice of God and its corporeal expression in the admirable Father Jonas. For as long as he has been attending church, David has been convinced that he is going to be a priest. The problem throughout the course of the book proves to be young Caitlin wearing a two-piece swimsuit, teenage Mara with the fierce green eyes, sex-crazed and vaguely suicidal Sabine, and the values David’s parents, church, and his own sense of God instill in him at a young age. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
It is this struggle within him that moves the book along, but the side of the road is full of humorous stories of college, girlfriends, family, and sex. There are drunken reveries, sexual misadventures, rites of passage, family squabbles and quirks, youthful naivety, and boarding school shenanigans. The stories are humorous, too—Schickler has a shaker full of irony, sarcasm, and blunt humor, and he peppers the book with good measure. Sometimes the humor is a bit forced and unwanted, but more often it is the redeeming part of the book.
There are moments, though, where Schickler tries to portray his spiritual battle intensely. He does not do this very well. While some readers may find his soulful anguish—which sometimes manifests itself physically—striking and probing, anyone who has struggled with the difficulty presented will most likely find his remarks cursory and unprovocative. That being said, most readers probably are not looking for raw, unshielded, tragic portrayals of spiritual suffering. If you are, go read Dostoevsky. Alyosha will help you out.
The humor and the suffering all create that balance that seems to mark contemporary best-selling novels. There is no judgment, no agenda, and no pressure except that which David thrusts upon himself. It is his battle, not ours. The book provides a point of comparison, understanding, and a sample of empathy. In this way, it succeeds: it is comfortable, readable, and moving.
With that in mind, one will not find revelation here, spiritual or otherwise. There is no catharsis hidden in these pages, no luminous light-shedding. If you struggle with the Christian God and sex and the uncompromising combination of the two, this will not loosen the dilemma, unless simply hearing that someone else has gone through something similar and lived long enough to write a memoir about it is consoling, which it may be.
Looking at the writing, Schickler is obviously young and has much to learn. The transitions within the novel are not bad, but his thoughts are banal and mawkish. This is not a beautiful book. It is rather indulgent and self-apologizing, and it does not seem to accomplish much. That would be fine if the journey of the book were more appreciable, for then it might even seem intentional. This feels like a memoir that was written prematurely. Among memoirists, he is not a Walls or an Eggers. He simply lacks the story and the poetry to be so.
Most critically, this book is superficial, gimmicky, and preponderantly focused on unreasonable Catholic guilt. If you want that, confer with Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock—he’ll be much funnier. It is a weak reflection on spiritual life, has a very poor understanding of God, presenting Him sophomorically. It is comfortable, though, and humorous at times. Its greatest message is: be fine with yourself without qualifier. How would Augustine, David, or even God feel about that resolution? Probably not good. Oh well.