Monday, December 28, 2009

First Novel from Dr. Peter Kreeft

Author's Announcement of First Novel Publication
from Dr. Peter Kreeft, June 2009

Anyone who reads my website probably knows that I have been working on a novel for a long time, and promising its publication. It is finally finished and will be available late in 2009 or early in 2010 from St. Augustine’s Press. (Like all my books, it can be ordered directly from the publisher or through Amazon.) It’s called An Ocean Full of Angels.

I have written almost sixty books, but this one is very different from all the others.

For one thing, it took 20 years. There are two reasons for that. One is that there is just so much in it, so much of me. This is my magnum opus. It may be the worst book I’ve ever written, or it may be the best, but it’s got more parts of me in it than any other.

The other reason it took 20 years to finish is that it was written very differently than any other of my almost 60 books. I could not control it. It was a plant, not an artifact. I had to wait patiently for it to grow. I could not rush it. I don’t know where it arose from, inside of me or outside, but I was not in control of it. It kept changing, as I watched at it and let it do what it did, like an animal out of its cage.

It began as a much-too-long book because it was more overtly philosophical and talky.. The plot and the characters were originally there for the sake of the words, the points, the philosophy, as a string is there for its pearls. But that makes for bad fiction. In fiction, the string (plot and characters) can’t be there for the pearls of philosophical wisdom strung on it. It has to be the other way round: the philosophy has to serve the story. When I realized that, I cut out half the pages (the wordy dialogs) and let the story and the characters take over. So even though it remained a long and wordy and philosophical story (like The Brothers Karamazov, my favorite and model novel), it was a philosophical story, not a philosophy disguised as a story.

So I cannibalized the long and wordy book by extracting the philosophical passages and making no less than five other little books out of them:

1. The Sea Within (St. Augustine’s Press, 2007) explores the puzzle of humanity’s mysterious love affair with the sea.

2. I Surf Therefore I Am (St. Augustine’s Press, 2008) is a mystical philosophy of surfing.

3. If Einstein Had Been a Surfer (St Augustine’s Press, 2009) is about what kinds of thinking have to be included in a Theory of Everything, which is a dialog, or trialog, among three of the characters in Ocean: ‘Isa, Libby, and Evan.

4. A Refutation of Moral Relativism (originally Interview with an Absolutist) (Ignatius Press, 2007) is a series of dialogs between ‘Isa and Libby; and

5. Between Allah and Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims (originally Islamic Dialogs) (Inter Varsity Press, 2009) introduces a few other characters not in Ocean, but also centers on ‘Isa and Libby.

These are all books of philosophy that had cluttered up the story, so I had to evict them from its premises. These five other books all fascinate me, and I hope they will fascinate my readers too, but not in the same way as Ocean does.

So what is Ocean? It’s an ocean! I’m 75% serious when I describe it as “an angel’s eye view of the connections between Jesus Christ, Muhammad, dead Vikings, sassy Black feminists, Dutch Calvinist seminarians, large Jewish mother substitutes, armless nature mystics, Caribbean rubber dancers, Russian prophets, three popes in one year, Montezuma and Cortez, Romeo and Juliet, the Wandering Jew, the Sea Serpent, Kateri Tekawitha the Lily of the Mohawks, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the demon Hurricano, Islam in the art of body surfing, the Palestinian Intifadah, the fatal beauty of the sea, the incarnation of Jungian archetypes, the dooms of the Boston Red Sox, the Great Blizzard of ’78, the sexual revolution, the abortion wars, the wisdom of the ‘handicapped,’ the ecumenical jihad, the psychology of suicide, the identity crisis of Catholic education, and the end of the world.”

Ocean is about the connections among these things. In a sense it is my “Theory of Everything.” Philosophy and science and theology can state, define, and argue for those connections, but story is more convincing because it presents them, shows them. That’s why story is more powerful than philosophy in convincing us. (How many Romans were converted by Christian theology? How many by the Gospel story?) For instance, no philosopher was able to convince me that “we are each responsible for all,” but Dostoyevski did, because he showed it in The Brothers Karamazov.

I do not guarantee you that will like this book. I think some readers will call it ridiculous and others beautiful—rather like a wooly mammoth. I think it is not what anyone will expect. It is not what I expected either. It is like life that way. You may well find the book far too immense, sprawling, detailed, messy, superfluous, grotesque, uncategorizeable, and unbelievable. My only defense is that I find all these qualities in the real world.

My 20 year long mental pregnancy with this book was as surprising and unpredictable as the mental baby it eventually delivered. It was full of literally miraculous and impossible coincidences in my own life, all surrounding my main character ‘Isa. It would take another book to tell all those stories behind my story.

I don’t know for sure that this is not a bad book, but I do know that it is not a bad novel, because it is not a novel at all. It does not fit the rules of any generally accepted genre. “Fictional autobiography” is perhaps the closest. If I had not been haunted by the title An Ocean Full of Angels, I might have called it The ‘Isa Ben Adam Papers. It is written (supposedly) by one of the most interesting persons I have ever met, though I have met him only in my imagination. He is also half of myself (for instance he is both a philosopher and a surfer), though unlike myself he is young, courageous, arrogant, and a Muslim.

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