First-time novelist Colin Hester makes a promising debut with
Diamond Sutra. An odyssey of the spirit, this story spins
gossamer threads of Zen, devotion, grief and deliverance to create an
engrossing, touching whole. Its style challenges, being bereft of
quotation marks to contain the dialogue. Verbal exchanges and scene
changes occur at the speed of thought, and the resulting texture is one
that tickles and provokes the mind.
Protagonist Rudyard Gillette has endured in forty years of living more
dramatic upheavals than most people who finish out their full allotment
of years. His alcoholic father's affair with the mother of a member of
the youth hockey team he coaches drives Rud's own mother to flee, and
ultimately to her untimely death. Rud's stepmother, anything but wicked,
becomes estranged from her own son, Troy, who happens to be one of Rud's
closest childhood companions. Troy and Rud share an affection for Gale
Harmon, a beautiful girl who chooses neither in youth. Bounced among
England, Canada and the States, Rud becomes a man without devotion to a
single country, an apt reflection of his unmoored soul. He becomes a
textbook salesman, gets the incorrigible Troy a job with his company,
and ends up working for Troy, who climbs quickly up the
management ladder. Rud's shares his part-time girlfriend, Amaranta,
with a baseball player for the Bluejays, and he has neither the drive
nor necessary emotions to try to force her to a choice. His father comes
to live with him after being kicked out for his drinking by Rud's
stepmother. Rud keeps the top of his townhouse to himself, while his
father converts the lower level into a sort of Goodwill-furnished
Rud's life plods unambitiously along like this until the worst in a
seemingly endless series of quiet disasters happens. Rud's father commits
suicide in a mysteriously peculiar fashion, and Rud goes completely adrift.
Unable to bring closure to the grief and questions his father's death
fills him with, Rud begins obsessively reading obituaries, looking for
clues and answers to soothe his own unease. When he comes across an
obituary for Gale Harmon's father, also a suicide, he seeks Gale out.
Rud finds her wallowing in her own despair, putting together an anthology
of great writers whose lives ended at their own hands. Gale disappears
a scant time later, and suddenly Rud's life has direction. His goal is
to find Gale again, to save her from herself and her unquenchable anguish.
Rud knows only that Gale has gone to a Buddhist retreat, and begins
a back-and-forth cross country journey to find her. After months of
searching, he finally finds her. What he also finds is a disillusioned
roshi, a onetime Japanese baseball player, whose faith Gale is trying to
restore. Rud becomes immersed in the habits and hard work of Zen. As
he labors to save Gale and his new mentor, he will find that he is, in the
end, saving himself.
Diamond Sutra climaxes with one of the most delightful, quietly
hilarious series of scenes lately written. The novel wraps up every
loose end, satisfying the sense of fairness readers demand. The enigmatic
and affecting denouement leaves the reader with a happily aching heart.
Rud is the most endearingly befuddled protagonist since Quoyle of E.
Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. One can only hope that
Colin Hester writes more.