Lunch With Buddha
AJAR Contemporaries, November 2012
Heartbreaking in places, hilarious in others, Lunch with Buddha takes its readers on a quintessentially American road trip across the Northwest. That outer journey, complete with good and bad meals, various outdoor adventures, and an amusing cast of quirky characters, mirrors a more interior journey--a quest for meaning in the hectic routine of modern life.
Otto Ringling, who's just turned 50, is an editor of food books at a prestigious New York publishing house, a middle-of-the-road father with a nice home in the suburbs, children he adores, and a sense of himself as being a mainstream, middle-class American. His sister, Cecelia, is the last thing from mainstream. For two decades she's made a living reading palms and performing past-life regressions. She believes firmly in our ability to communicate with those who have passed on.
In Lunch with Buddha, when Otto faces what might be the greatest of life's emotional challenges, it is Cecelia who knows how to help him. As she did years earlier-- in this book's best-selling predecessor, Breakfast with Buddha--she arranges for her brother to travel with Volya Rinpoche, a famous spiritual teacher--who now also happens to be her husband. After early chapters in which the family gathers for an important event, the novel portrays the road trip made by Otto and Rinpoche, in a rattling pickup, from Seattle, across the Idaho panhandle and the vast Montana prairie, to the family farm in North Dakota. Along the way, the brothers-in-law have a series of experiences--some hilarious, some poignant--all aimed at bringing Otto a deeper peace of mind.
During visits to American landmarks, they meet a cast of minor characters, each of whom enables Rinpoche to impart some new spiritual lesson. Their conversations range from questions about life and death to talk of history, marijuana, marriage and child-rearing, sexuality, Native Americans, and outdoor swimming. In the end, with the help of their miraculous daughter, Shelsa, and the prodding of Otto's own almost-adult children, Rinpoche and Cecelia push this decent, middle-of-the-road American into a more profound understanding of the purpose of his life. His sense of the line between possible and impossible is altered, and the story's ending points him toward a very different way of being in this world.
"In this engaging follow-up novel, Merullo offers readers a hero that's a bit jaded but loving; a little lost but searching. One can't help but root for Otto and hope that he finds the inner peace that, even if he doesn't quite know it, he desperately seeks. . . . a beautifully written and compelling story about a man's search for meaning that earnestly and accessibly tackles some well-trodden but universal questions. A quiet meditation on life, death, darkness and spirituality, sprinkled with humor, tenderness and stunning landscapes."
– Kirkus Starred Review
"alternately hilarious and poignant...Merullo's detailed descriptions of the American Northwest keep the writing grounded even as its themes turn increasingly spiritual. Merullo doesn't try too hard to prove any spiritual points, however. As a result, Lunch is a moving yet entertaining and never histrionic account of how an ordinary American family--with a few extraordinary members in its ranks--deals with the overwhelming grief of losing one of their own."
– Tricycle: The Buddhist Review