Matt Murray, staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, has crafted a moving and insightful memoir trying to understand why his father, a middle-aged, middle-class homeowner and government worker, joined a rural monastery. The book begins like this:

The year I turned thirteen, my father declared himself the patron saint of frustrated housewives. From the time I started ninth grade, I lived in constant danger of coming home from school to find a group of his disciples gathered in my living room. I would tromp up the front sidewalk, jiggling my keys, whistling or humming, kick open the front door, let the screen door slam behind me, drop my backpack to the floor with a thud—then turn and discover I was a virtual intruder in my own house. Five or six of my father's followers would be seated in a little circle of chairs. All were housewives from the neighborhood, women in their late thirties and forties whose husbands were at work. Their eyes would be focused adoringly on the only man in the room, a middle-aged figure with graying temples, a bushy mustache, a slight paunch, and an aura of sincerity: my father. Dad presided from a large leather recliner. Though dressed in around-the-house clothes—a cotton short-sleeved shirt, jeans, slippers—he composed himself with the authority of a judge in a robe. He sat up straight, hanging over the edge of the chair. His eyes were closed, his cheeks flushed, his frame tensed.The surrounding scene resembled a séance. The front curtains were drawn, leaving the whole room shadowy. The group held hands. Sometimes I could hear someone mumbling, but I could never tell whose lips were moving. The only motion I detected came from a flickering candle on the coffee table. Even the dust particles ...
Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: