Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sweet Heaven When I Die, Reviews

The reviews so far of my new book, Sweet Heaven When I Die:

“The book belongs to the tradition of long-form, narrative journalism best exemplified by writers such as Joan Didion, John McPhee, Norman Mailer and Sharlet’s contemporary David Samuels. Sharlet deserves a place alongside such masters, for he has emerged as a master investigative stylist and one of the shrewdest commentators on religion’s underexplored realms.”
                        --Michael Washburn, The Washington Post

“For Sharlet, the story of American religion is not a polarized one of fundamentalists vs. secularists. It’s a vast landscape, and each essay in his remarkable new collection of literary journalism explores a different crag or cranny of it…. There’s no better guide to this ‘country in between.’”
                        --Brook Wilensky-Lanford, The Boston Globe

“Superb… Compelling…  Stunning… A fine book, by a deeply thoughtful writer.”
                        --Steve Yarbrough, The Oregonian

“A Must-Read…. Brilliant portraits of the religious fringe… fleshed out in lush three-dimensional detail—a lifetime in a dozen pages, a biography distilled to its purest elements…. Sharlet impresses with his ability to mine the common humanity that lingers in even the most radically minded thinkers.”
                        --The Daily Beast

“Sharp and intimate.”
                        --Rolling Stone

“All I had to do was open to the first lines of  ‘Sweet Fuck All, Colorado’: ‘When I was eighteen I fell hard for the state of Colorado as embodied by a woman with long honey blond hair and speckled green eyes, who drank wine from a coffee mug and whiskey from the bottle.’
                        --The Paris Review, Staff Pick

“A beautifully written bricolage of reported narrative, character study, and memoir tracing his travels among the faithful in the United States.”
                        --Jeremy Keehn, Harper’

"The characters in Sweet Heaven When I Die are rough, unfulfilled, often doomed. But that’s what makes this collection so strong, so human. We always suspect that by the end, they will be betrayed by their beliefs, will be disillusioned or destroyed. But failure doesn’t make belief meaningless. It may be the only thing that gives faith meaning at all."
                        --Kansas City Star

“A fascinating tour through some of the darker, or simply more baffling, corners of American faith and spirituality. Sharlet proves himself a worthy guide both because he's a keen observer and because he approaches his subjects with a sense of openness.”

"[A] collection of beautifully written narratives... Sharlet's previous works have incisively critiqued fundamentalism and American power; Sweet Heaven is equally thoughtful, but tender, acknowledging that between the extremes of snake handlers and nihilists, most of us wander through life groping for meaning, with consolation that in the act of finding, we too, may be found."
                        --Durham, NC Independent

"Brilliant portraits of faith, despair and the fictions that keep people going... [Sharlet's] often-elegiac prose rumbles with the fierce rhythms of the blues…. By bringing back the stories of people they’ve met on their own wanderings across battle lines, Bottoms [author of Swalling the Past] and Sharlet bear witness to something greater than their personal dilemmas. Call it faith, call it fiction, call it both. But to read these books — both works of passionate, troubled empathy — is to feel less alone. "
                        --Margot Harrison, Seven Days

“A collection of powerful, moody, hopeful, sad, unsettling and even uplifting essays into the deepest realms of truth, belief, hope, and the blues.”
                        --Lebanon, NH Valley News

“[Sharlet] uses his gift for clear, resonant prose to slowly unravel each subject…. Rich and intriguing reading.”

“In the end, [Sharlet] says, it's in not knowing the ultimate answers, in leaving ourselves open to the possibility of change, that we can continue to draw hope…. Call it narrative journalism or creative nonfiction, Jeff Sharlet's collection of feature-length pieces demonstrates his mastery of the form.”
                        --Ron Hogan, Shelf Awareness

“In every wonderfully told, intimate, (auto-)biographical detail, we learn something of more wide-ranging significance. Perhaps we learn a bit about how to die and how to live. At the very least, we learn a lot about the religious field in America…. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, much like Cornel West after him, drew from Christianity’s concept of love a model of “protest against the course of the world,” a way of being ethical in a world mired in injustice. Sharlet searches for such pockets of love-as-protest that persist in unlikely places in America—from personal relationships in the heartland to radical politics in New York City. It is rewarding to join him on this search.’
                        --John D. Boy, The Immanent Frame / Social Science Research Council

“A fascinating collection of essays… outstanding, at both reportorial and literary levels…. Strongly recommended.”
                        --Scholars & Rogues

“While reading and re-reading Jeff Sharlet's Sweet Heaven When I Die, a couple of songs replayed over and over in my head. His lovely and haunting collections of essays made my thinking musical. Perhaps it is the beauty of his language, the lyrical quality of his descriptions, that direct me to hymns and pop songs… Perhaps, it is because his reflections on religion, trauma, belief, unbelief, practice and loss feel like poetry.”
                        --Kelly Baker, Religion in American History

“[Sharlet’s] quest is personal, and Sweet Heaven is richer for it: infused with both his searching and his skepticism, the collection is documentary journalism with a hint of poetry. Recommended.“
                        --New City Lit

“Sweet Heaven When I Die tells tales of religious weirdness, which is also to say the wildness, the wilderness, the untamable regions. If we don’t make space for the weird in religion, we simply don’t get religion in all its complexity, its messiness, and its wild parts…. Sharlet’s rare gift has been to make friends with the weird and almost, but not quite, make peace with it…. A great, incisive writer.”
                        --S. Brent Plate, Religion Dispatches

“Marvelous vignettes of this bizarre country of ours and its double-bizarre inhabitants. I loved The Family and C Street but I think this is his best so far.”
                        ­--Bookavore, Word Bookstore staff pick

"Writing in the tradition of William Least Heat Moon and John McPhee, in Sweet Heaven Sharlet's travels reveal people in place and time. The stories are at once humorous and sad, while the characters from all corners lead lives both fulfilling and desperate."
                        --The Observer (Shepherdstown, W. Va)

“Part reporter, part prophet, Jeff Sharlet is an American visionary in the lineage that runs from Twain to Robinson Jeffers to Sam Shepard and Joan Didion. In Sweet Heaven When I Die, he scours the desert margins of our culture, politics, and religion, training his eye on outlaws, anarchists, fanatics, and saints. In this way, he reveals the unexpected shape of our nation’s center, which is to say, our heart.”
--Peter Trachtenberg, author of The Book of Calamities