The Essence of Nathan Biddle by J William Lewis

The Essence of Nathan Biddle by J William Lewis
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The Essence of Nathan Biddle is a timeless coming-of-age tale that, as novelist David Armstrong observed, “is like discovering The Catcher in the Rye all over again.” Protagonist Kit Biddle is a rising prep school senior who finds himself tangled in a web of spiritual quandaries and intellectual absurdities. Kit’s angst is compounded by a unique psychological burden he is forced to carry: his intelligent but unstable Uncle Nat has committed an unspeakable act on what, according to the Uncle’s deranged account, were direct orders from God.

The tragedy haunting his family follows Kit like a dark and foreboding cloud, exacerbating his already compulsive struggle with existential questions about the meaning of his life. When the brilliant, perhaps phantasmic, Anna dismisses him, Kit quickly spirals into despair and self-destruction. But when his irrational decision to steal a maintenance truck and speed aimlessly down the highway ends in a horrific accident and months of both physical and emotional convalescence, Kit is forced to examine his perceptions of his life and his version of reality.

In this exquisite bildungsroman, calamity leads to fresh perspectives and new perceptions: it focuses Kit’s mind and forces him to confront the issues that plague him. Readers will empathize—and celebrate—as the darkness lifts and Kit comes to terms with the necessity of engagement with life’s pain, pleasure . . . and absurdity.
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An intelligent, clever, and captivating tale, The Essence of Nathan Biddle soars in the spaces that exist between despair and hope, darkness and light, love and loss. Beautifully written, profoundly moving, and resplendent with characters destined to remain with you long after the last page is turned, The Essence of Nathan Biddle is unforgettable.

Angst on overdrive.

This is the story of a young man of eighteen, but is geared more toward adult readers. It’s written in beautiful prose and is complicated.

Kit is the essential brooding young man. He’s angsty to the hundredth degree. He analyzes and overanalyzes things to death. While this might be a turn off to some readers, it’s rather close to what average young men do–especially sensitive ones. In that respect, Kit is very true to life.

That said, I wanted to empathize with Kit. I did. I wanted to so much, but sometimes the brooding and angst got to be too much. Then there’s the plot. Honestly, it goes all over the place at a hundred miles an hour. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. What it does do, though, is make this a book one needs to read slowly and carefully or you’ll miss things. The plot twists come thick and fast, so beware.

If you’re in the mood for a complicated book that will stick with you after the last page, then this is the book for you. It might take some time, but it just might be exactly the book you’re looking for.

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