“Sometimes I want someone else to see what I see. Other times I want to be the only one.”
I enjoyed this book, although in setting out to write this review, I could not think of where to begin in summarizing it. The first thing that comes to mind is that it is one of the most brutally honest presentations of a “broken” male that I have ever read, an aspect I appreciated very much. David Schickler is fully aware of his own flaws, and shies away from not a single one of them in this memoir centered around his youthful intentions of becoming a priest.
In a world where we hardly need another memoir regarding the emotional issues of a middle-class white male (because what problems have we ever really had?), at least two things stand above the rest and warrant David’s story. First, his character, humor, and up-frontness from the get-go. Within five pages, I liked him and appreciated his childlike observation and imagination. His personality is the perfect blend of shyness and closeted naughty fascinations. Secondly, the quality of Schickler’s writing. This reads like a bright and well-crafted novel, with enough clever anecdotes and deeper-than-surface digressions to keep me saying, again and again, “Damn, this is good.” I flipped back through my copy of the book before writing this and found I had underlined something on nearly every other page, such as:
“I wonder why people my age have to put shit all over their walls that says This is who I am!”
or, in processing his own thoughts, “…your life is a competition between you and the strongest version of yourself, the version God wants you to become.”
In the opening chapter, David describes himself sitting in Sunday Mass as a ten year old, trying to pay attention to the service but getting distracted with daydreaming about the various pretty girls in the pews who might be his future wife. This is a fitting way to open the book, as faith and females are both recurring aspects throughout his story.
From a young age, David has a strong desire to know God, to follow God, to be alone with God and really hear Him, but there is a discord in the relationship that he can’t seem to put his finger on. While his desire for God is sincere, there is a lack of harmony in David’s heart as he wrestles to know what God really wants of him, and how to reconcile following God with his own earthly tendencies (sleeping with women, mostly, but also swearing, dark thoughts, writing fiction about questionable things, etc.).
The book primarily follows David’s journey through college and the years following. The main drama unfolds in his wrestling with whether he is really cut out to be a priest or not, as well as an extremely debilitating handicap that develops in his right leg, and his off-and-on relationship with Mara—a fictional name that represents a real woman in his life.
Underneath these physical elements is a constant “dialogue” between David and God that, at times, grows quite heated (at least on David’s end). His experience with faith and devotion ranges widely (and I can’t help but get the feeling that it probably still does to this day). David is sometimes a devout man of childlike faith who believes without question and seems quite in love with God. Other times, he is openly cursing God, demanding explanation for just what exactly God is doing to him and even goes through a period where he considers God not to be there at all.
It was these passages that made the book for me, as I can deeply resonate with a person so fervently wrestling to believe. If David didn’t care so passionately about knowing God truly, it would not be wrestling at all; it would be a simple decision disconnected from emotion to simply choose to believe or not. The Dark Path seems representative of this new era we have recently morphed into as a culture of people becoming more and more comfortable with being vulnerable, honest, and real, even if it means admitting to flaws in themselves that can be quite difficult to expose.
All of the above might make this sound like a “Christian-y” book; it is not in the least, although people of faith will probably find more to glean. In fact, I think all of the sex, swearing, and borderline-blasphemy contained within would make a majority of Christians squirm (they made me swoon with glee, but that’s another story). Still, whether you believe in God as a Being or not, David is asking good questions in this book—honest, meaningful, human questions to which he is actually trying to discern the answers.
The ending (no spoilers, but then this isn’t really that sort of book) only “kind of” resolves in the sense that David seems to have grown as a person and gotten more comfortable with his own mental and spiritual processes the older he gets. He is still essentially the same person, he’s just gotten slightly more used to himself, the good and “bad” parts alike.
By the end of this book, I very much wished I could just sit down and have coffee—or a few beers—with David and pick his brain, see where he’s at now. My perception is that his wrestle with God will continue and there will be high and low points, but then, that’s not so different from any of our experiences, is it?