Book Briefs: February 11, 1991

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Telling Secrets, by Frederick Buechner (HarperSanFrancisco, 106 pp.; $16.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Timothy K. Jones.

I shake the secrets from my deepest bones,” Theodore Roethke once wrote. Frederick Buechner, in his latest autobiographical book, succeeds in an unusual way at following the poet’s lead. As his title suggests, Buechner proposes something that requires more courage, perhaps, than anything this novelist and Presbyterian minister has written to date: he shakes out into common view some hard and hidden episodes from his life as a son and father.

“I have called this book Telling Secrets,” he writes, “because I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell.” And while, he notes, the Anglican Collect for Purity affirms God as one “from whom no secrets are hid,” we humans too well hide from one another—even from ourselves—the twists and turns, the hurts and hopes, that story our lives and inform our faith.

Not-So-Pretty Stories

Buechner has become practiced at such “professional remembering,” reaching a wide audience with his previous autobiographical works, The Sacred Journey and Now and Then. But Buechner goes deeper here. If the first two volumes dealt mainly with the “headlines” of his life, Telling Secrets more resembles “the back pages of the paper where I have always thought the real news is anyway—the reviews, an obituary or two, a couple of in-depth reports, the editorial and op-ed sections. It is the interior life.”

With candor and simplicity, Buechner rummages around in an attic crowded with over 60 years of memories—such as the morning his alcoholic father went down to the family garage where he turned on his car and ...

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