Chris Beal Reviews THE BOOK OF FORM AND EMPTINESS, by Ruth Ozeki


Inventive and amusing, Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel, THE BOOK OF FORM AND EMPTINESS, also manages to be profound. Ozeki is a Zen priest affiliated with the Everyday Zen Foundation, and she makes liberal use in her writing of what she has realized through her spiritual practice.

The “book” we are reading here is conscious: it dismisses what it considers a conceit – that some “author” is writing a book. The author is no more than a scribe, our book tells us. By contrast, this book seems to have opinions and ideas about many things but especially about its main character, Benny. And it often speaks in the plural – “we books” – when discussing the role of books in human life. Here, “books” themselves are a metaphor for how experience is created, how it is “bound” so that a time-space continuum of experience becomes manifest. This is most clear when we (through Benny) visit the bindery of the library where Benny hangs out. Literally, this bindery is the place where old books are repaired, but it is also much more than that.

Published by Penguin Random House, 2021.

Benny knows a book is being written about him, and he often talks back to the book, questioning the way it is telling his story. He thinks the book has agency. But the book protests that its role is only to record what happens (although it does seem to have plenty of opinions!). One of Benny’s tasks as he stumbles toward maturity is to discover his own agency so that he no longer needs to project it.

But Benny’s task is made much harder because he has lost his father in a freak accident. His parents loved each other very much and his mother, grieving, has put on so much weight that Benny is ashamed of her. She also hoards to the extent that her home is in a hazardous condition, and she may lose her and her son’s housing as a result. In the midst of all these crises, Benny, at fourteen, is not ready to be grown up.

Benny’s father, a jazz musician from Japan, named his son after Benny Goodman. Benny’s mother is white, and because Benny looks like his father, his mother is often asked if he is adopted. In this and other ways, Benny experiences himself as an outsider.

Benny also hears voices – not just any voices, but the voices of the objects in his environment. He experiences their pain when they are treated badly. He keeps this to himself when he can because, to others, it proves he is “mental.” But does it? Or is he just more sensitive than others?

The plot involves many other characters, including a girl whom Benny grows to love: she lives on the edges of society and he comes to know her in the mental hospital where he is sent for a time. There is also the psychiatrist, well-intentioned but set in her narrow ways of viewing consciousness. And there is a Japanese Zen nun who has written a book, TIDY MAGIC, on clearing out all the excess “stuff” in our homes, a la Marie Kondo. This little book falls mysteriously into the hands of Benny’s mother and provides another view of how we might treat objects in our consumerist society.

The format of the book is especially inventive. The book must have thought long and hard about how to present its complex story within the format of pages of print. For example, it changes font when a character talks in first person. Or, when TIDY MAGIC is quoted at length, the text is printed on a gray background.

But you will have to read THE BOOK OF FORM AND EMPTINESS to absorb all its richness. At 546 pages, it will take you awhile, but the book will be glad that you took the time to savor and enjoy it.


Don’t Stop Here

More To Explore

Six Things You Have In Common With Казино Гама

Гама казино – это новое казино онлайн, которое уже успело завоевать любовь тысяч игроков. На сайте гама казино можно найти большое количество игр различных жанров

The Business Of Gama Казино

Гама казино является одним из лучших онлайн-казино, которое предлагает своим игрокам увлекательные игры и безопасную игровую среду. В данной статье мы рассмотрим гама казино официальный


AjPatana Selssy Store
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop