From Publishers Weekly
There's an old saying that a devil is appealing at first but leaves you in despair, while an angel appears terrifying at first but leaves you refreshed and hopeful. This eighth book since Moore's extraordinarily successful Care of the Soul
considers loss, pain, conflict, confusion, anger, excess, deviance and other disturbing feelings and behaviors not as devils to be exorcised but as angelic opportunities for deepening and altering the self. Derived from a chapter of the first book titled "The Gifts of Depression," the idea is not that suffering per se is good for the soul, but that to regard such visitations merely as suffering is to miss their point and meaning. Art and religion feature more prominently here than psychology, which Moore, a Catholic monk turned therapist, finds too mechanical and fix-it oriented to serve the soul. He adopts F. Scott Fitzgerald's phrase "the real dark night of the soul" to refer to anything from a short episode to an entire marriage and sees it as an invitation to spiritual cultivation, work that can be intellectual, creative or even physical, but which the monastically trained Moore tends to depict as quiet, solitary reflection. All this is set forth in a fluent, unflaggingly earnest style. Moore, who has an exceptional arsenal of literary and religious lore at his disposal, scatters allusions to figures as various as Madame Bovary, Gandhi, Thomas More and Glenn Gould (no Luther or Malcolm X, though) with dexterity. Short on detail, long on evocation, this book coveys the important if familiar message that spiritual growth entails darkness as well as light. While not exactly a substitute for reading Dostoyevski or Keats, this is perhaps an inducement to give them a chance.
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The emphasis here, as in Moore's last book, The Soul's Religion
(2002), is on suffering, and that book's mission of counseling readers on how to deal with suffering is extended more practically here--that is, provided you are primarily a seasoned reader capable of being consoled by others' written testimony, which Moore would have you consult. His advice for coping with "dark nights of the soul"--itself a literary framing of a concept, derived from the writings of the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross--draws habitually upon literature, though he cites movies now and then (his consideration of Humphrey Bogart as an actor who used his childhood suffering to create positive characterizations is most intriguing and persuasive--and ultimately dependent on Eric Lax's biography of Bogey). The book's parts expand upon the different dark nights of the soul arising from three different kinds of experiences: life "passages," "disturbances" of normal or optimal states of being (chiefly in relationships), and "developments" in life that provoke emotional, mental, and physical suffering. In the last section in particular, Moore dispenses less literarily mediated therapeutic advice, but he keeps intact throughout the soothing tone that, ever since Care of the Soul
(1992), has powered his books regularly to berths on the best-seller lists. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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