Hunger for Connection Brought to "The Seeker Academy," by L. D. Gussin
Yes, the characters in L. D. Gussin's "The Seeker Academy" are "hungry for the truth" as Christopher Noel says on the book's cover. But, these characters are even hungrier for connection, as symbolized by the Gorganzola-and-fig pizza at the book's beginning.
This hunger for connection extends in every direction. Their hunger grows vertically--into the world of the spirit (upward), and it extends into a wish for greater depth within themselves(inward and downward). The hunger grows horizontally and outward into relationships with romantic and married partners, family, friends, community, and casually encountered strangers. The masterful contribution of "The Seeker Academy" is laying these hungers for connection vulnerably bare and deftly showing the multitude of ways we human beings push and pull through,and often past, our desires. I frequently found myself pausing to make a mental note as I recognized a comment in the text that pointed to a tendency in myself.
From a writing craft standpoint, one of L.D. Gussin's greatest achievements is in his credible and warm fleshing out of leading lady Grace Hudson, and telling the story through her eyes. Grace, a middle-aged drama teacher in a middle school brings impeccable observation and a tendency toward wry mimicry into her roles as matron, mother, care-taking aunt, and then among the elders of the temporary staff at the Seeker Academy.
What better guide could we have into the culture of the Seeker Academy? ("Grace wanted to dismiss this coded talk.... But she also felt Sophie to be thoughtful and sincere.") Gussin doesn't go for satire, but neither does he go for whole-hog idolatry of New Age spiritual shopping. Very gently, Gussin reveals the wounding and natural human yearning that has drawn these people into the world of the Seeker Academy. Gussin also reveals, in a balanced way, the extent that this world of spiritual mélange delivers healing for wounds, and rapture for transcendental yearning--and to the extent it does not.
An amazing feature of The Seeker Academy is its encyclopedic knowledge of holistic healing and the history of spiritual seeking communities in America (since Thoreau, the Transcendentalists, and Chautauqua) and in Europe with the Romantics. Interwoven among the book's conversations and theatrical performances is a compendium and classification of New Age Philosophy. Make no mistake, Gussin has done a great deal of homework which undergirds The Seeker Academy. In addition to the broad swath, there is even practical, detailed information on how to perform sitting meditation.
Gussin's style in its slight formality, occasional sentence inversion, elegance, and wording of chapter titles reminds me pleasantly of the early 20th century books that crammed our bookcases when I was growing up in the 1950s and devoured books from an earlier generation. ("Grace knew that her body would ache the next day, as her heart ached from the winter in hell, but she was glad for the struggle.") There's a graciousness here that serves Gussin's tale well. I love the lyrical thread of poetic imagery that weaves through the book.
Grace Hudson lives up to her name, embodying as she does the quality of grace and carrying the surname of a great American river. Grace enters the Seeker Academy as a person willing "to give life a chance." Her "role-the-dice openness" helps her navigate the turbulent waves of her Seeker Academy experience with its not-yet-digested emotions and ideas.
Although Gussin's book is a novel of ideas, the relational strand of connection most compels me. The message I take away at the end of "The Seeker Academy" is that yes,"this life is a guesthouse" and in every moment we have the choice presented to us to be the decent human beings we essentially are.
Visit Janet Grace Riehl's blog "Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century" (www.riehlife.com) to share more of her thoughts on connection through the arts, across cultures, and within the family. Janet is the author of "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary," a downhome love story beyond death. You can read sample poems on her website http://www.riehlife.com/