The Book of Why
Little, Brown and Company
The narrator in The Book of Why is the former author of self-help books, the underlying philosophy of which is that people are responsible for their circumstances because of how they think about them. Negative thoughts beget negative circumstances. It's not just psychological situations but literal, physical ones, too. People need to be thankful so the universe will reward them. But when the narrator lost his wife, a wife who seems not to be as convinced by what her husband teaches, the self-help author retires and hides away, lying when people ask him his name. But a woman, a stranger who was helped by his books, has sought him out to bring him back.
I am certified to teach a certain self-help author's material, much of which is useful--attitudes that successful people often employ--but a peripheral item or two kept bumping into me that I was less certain of. The self-help guru gave me a website of daily mystical encouragement, the mystical content of which did not make sense until I read this novel, The Book of Why.
The book was marketed to me as a self-help novel that selected me. The initial scenario pulled me in, and the previous marital difference in attitude and subsequent declining belief in his own books intrigued me. I expected/anticipated a feel-good ending that would renew my faith in humanity and faith itself.
Instead, despite occasions where characters find help in self-help, readers are confronted with a litany of questions that are never addressed as the narrator's readers write in non-antagonistic, earnest questions: Why did this happen? Why that? It then rattles off past book wisdom that sometimes is useful, sometimes contradictory. Surprisingly for me who expected self-help, these are all presented in a literary manner (the author bio perhaps intimates the author's interests although it's possible I am mistaken). While the ending does not pay off in an emotional or story sense, it does so intellectually. Despite the acknowledgement of Deepak Chopra, I suspect this novel is meant as self-help for those addicted to or disillusioned by self-help. As my time for reviewing this is limited, I'll forgo a rereading, but such might pay off.