Jake Fades: A Novel of Impermanenceby David Guy
Jake is a Zen master and expert bicycle repairman who fixes flats and teaches meditation out of a shop in Bar Harbor, Maine. Hank is his long-time student. The aging Jake hopes that Hank will take over teaching for him. But the commitment-phobic Hank doesn’t feel up to the job, and Jake is beginning to exhibit behavior that looks suspiciously like
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Jake is a Zen master and expert bicycle repairman who fixes flats and teaches meditation out of a shop in Bar Harbor, Maine. Hank is his long-time student. The aging Jake hopes that Hank will take over teaching for him. But the commitment-phobic Hank doesn’t feel up to the job, and Jake is beginning to exhibit behavior that looks suspiciously like Alzheimer’s disease. Is a guy with as many “issues” as Hank even capable of being a Zen teacher? And are those paradoxical things Jake keeps doing some kind of koan-like wisdom . . .
or just dementia?
These and other hard questions confront Hank, Jake, and the colorful cast of characters they meet during a week-long trip to the funky neighborhood of Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
As they trek back and forth from bar to restaurant to YMCA to Zen Center to doughnut shop, answers arise—in the usual unexpected ways.
Click here to listen to the author, David Guy, discuss Jake Fades on North Carolina Public Radio.
"The Buddhist lessons of impermanence and letting go are folded into a contemporary urban story of drifters and their teachers in this sweet novel. . . . The conversational first-person narration draws the reader in, as does the eminently likable Jake."—Kirkus Reviews
"Guy conveys through Hank's koanlike interior commentary and Jake's dialogue, the subtleties of Zen practice. Readers into the dharma will find this novel worthwhile."—Publishers Weekly
"In the frolicsome, playful novel about Zen Buddhism, death, and sexuality, [Guy] beautifully conveys the impermanence of life. . . . Jake Fades gives sex and death the respect they deserve."—Spirituality & Practice
"Jake Fades is a book written with an uncommon clarity: a story by a real storyteller. Like all good books, it's about many things: Buddhism—sure, that's there—but it's also about the families we're born into and the families we make for ourselves. Sit. Read."—Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish and The Watermelon King
"A wonderfully entertaining and admirably down-to-earth story about Zen, beer, sex, and real people in real life—not the make-believe Zen of your dreams."—David Chadwick, author of Crooked Cucumber and Thank You and OK!
- Shambhala Publications, Inc.
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 14
The zendo—this long, wide room that had once been a living room—was beautifully arranged. There were cushions around the outside walls; down the middle were adjustable room dividers that gave us more wall space, though we needed it only for some part-time people, like Jess. The tradition in Soto Zen, every since Bodhidharma supposedly stared at the side of a cave for nine years, is that we gaze at a wall, differentiating us from all other forms of Buddhism (there's an important distinction for you).
But on that first night it was our custom to face the center, holding our heads up but gazing toward the floor. It was the first sitting in what would be seven days of sitting and walking.
And it was the only sitting during which Jake spoke. Fifteen minutes in, he cleared his throat.
“When I say good-bye to someone before sesshin,”
he said, “I say it as if it may be the last time.” I thought of the way he had hugged Josh outside the restaurant, slapping his back, looking into his eyes. “As if I’m sitting on my deathbed, that person walking out the door. Sesshin is like death, it’s the best preparation for death. Also the best preparation for life.
“For seven days we’ll be apart from our normal life. Whatever is going on out there, whatever is bothering you, troubling you, exciting you,
there’s nothing you can do about it. We’ll drop everything as if it doesn’t exist, see what it’s like just to be here as a sitting,
He didn't say anything for a few minutes—I thought he was through—then spoke again.
"Years ago, I was in a little town in Mexico. I had just gotten back from
Japan, was bumming around for a while, went down there from California.
In the middle of the town, every morning, an Indian woman came to beg in front of the church. She was tiny, not much over four feet, and seemed old, in her sixties or seventies. She would sit in front of the church and hold her right hand in a begging position, like a mudra,
staring in front of herself. I stood and watched her for minutes at a time. Her back was straight. Her posture was strong. I never saw her move.
"If you gave her money, she looked up and beamed,
radiantly. She was full of life. But she never asked for money. She never asked for anything. She just sat, while life went on all around.
Somehow, sitting there, she took part in the fullness of life.
had been in Japan for years and knew people who were quite impressed with their ability to sit, but had never seen anyone sit better than that woman did every day. She wasn’t a Buddhist. She had no training.
Just a human being, who in all her years had learned something about life. So in the spirit of that woman, with no idea if anything is going to show up in our hands, let’s sit for the next few days. Let’s ask nothing of life, and see what it offers us.”
I had never heard that story before. In all the years I'd known him, he'd never used it.
I couldn't imagine why. It was perfect.
Meet the Author
David Guy teaches writing in the Hart Leadership Program and the Masters of Public Policy Program at Duke University. He is the author of numerous books, including The Autobiography of My Body and The Red Thread of Passion. His book reviews appear regularly in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other papers, and he is a contributing editor to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I read about this book in Rambler magazine, and I am glad I did. Otherwise, I would probably know nothing about it. The book itself focuses on people involved in Buddhist meditation, but in no way is this book just for people interested in meditation. It is about teachers and students, fathers and sons, sexual tension, and the trappings of life. It has helped me to remember the importance of just sitting with a problem and the answer will come. The characters are well-drawn and interesting. I recommend this book to others who enjoy characters driven novels.