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Sandra SedgbeerIt seems that "spiritual fiction" and "metaphysical parables" are pouring off the printers' presses almost as frequently as newspapers these days. Now I don't deny that most have a worthy message to impart. Nor do I wish to belittle the valuable service so many spiritual teachers and gurus are performing in trying to "wake up the world" with this new form of 'metaphysical fiction'. But there's no ignoring the fact that even some of the best-known names in this arena have fallen into the trap of believing that so long as the message is a good one, the medium doesn't matter.
The trouble is, it does matter... it matters a great deal. The way I see it is that the more important the message is, the more crucial it is for the messenger to create the right framework for their story in order to capture and maintain the interest of as wide an audience as possible. Which means that, if an author is going to use fiction as a way of reaching the masses with a spiritual message, then they owe it to themselves, as well as their potential audience, to master the art of good storytelling. Sadly, to my mind, this is something that, aside from a handful of exceptions, few "New Age" novelists have managed to accomplish.
By good storytelling I mean, of course, creating a well-constructed plot, good characterization and perfect pacing. All the elements, in fact, that distinguish a so-so story from a riveting read that not only engages your interest from the outset, but also keeps you burning the midnight oil long after you should have been slumbering.
Unlike many other authors of this new inspirational genre, Alan Cohen is actually a very good storyteller. Where other metaphysical storytellers tend to create two-dimensional, cardboard characters as mere devices through which to impart their spiritual knowledge and wisdom, Cohen creates interesting, three-dimensional, warts-and-all-characters that we all can identify with. What particularly endears Cohen to me as a writer is that he's not afraid to employ humor and wit to get his message across. That he does it so deftly, and without in any way undermining his intent to aid in the enlightenment process is both a testament to his skill as a writer as well as a humorist.
In Angelo Mann, the central character in My Father's Voice (Alan Cohen's first novel), Cohen has created a very believable character. At the age of 43, Angelo appears to have everything a man could possibly desire - intellectual brilliance, a prestigious career, a devoted family and an opulent lifestyle. To cap it all, the scientific work Angelo is engaged in is so revolutionary, he is widely regarded as a man who is 'changing the course of the future'.
However, beneath his confident façade, Angelo feels empty, inadequate and fearful. Despite his worldly success, Angelo doesn't know who he really is. The clue to Angelo's sudden dissatisfaction with his life and himself lies in his childhood, which was made miserable by his father's unpredictable, abusive temper. Angelo is terrified the pattern may be repeating itself. His marriage is rapidly degenerating into a battlefield where accusations are traded like missiles, and his once-happy small son, Jesse, shrinks from him in bewilderment at Angelo's sudden uncontrollable eruptions of anger.
Then, out of the blue, Angelo receives a last minute invitation to speak at a scientific conference in Israel. Infuriated by his selfishness, his wife views his acceptance as yet another betrayal of his responsibilities as a husband and father. But Angelo knows that, for the sake of his sanity and his relationship with his son, he has to get away. This trip may be his last chance to break the cycle, and try to find some answers that may help him climb out of the hell that his life has become before he sinks beneath the weight of his own anger and self-loathing, dragging his much-loved though rarely hugged six-year-old son with him.
Within a few days of arriving in Tel Aviv, Angelo witnesses a tragedy that's so mindlessly brutal and shocking it suddenly forces him to question everything about the way he is living his life and, though he is blind to it at the time, catapults him on a spiritual path.
As a man of intellect, logic and science, Angelo dismisses anything that cannot be seen or proven. When anything unexpected occurs in his life, he puts it down to coincidence rather than synchronicity. But life has other plans for Angelo. Soon he is being confounded by a slew of events, experiences and encounters for which his scientific background has left him totally unprepared. He meets a beautiful woman who seems to be everything his wife is not, plus several "teachers" who, despite his initial resistance, prompt his awakening to a higher knowledge. As a result, Angelo sets out on a quest that leads to the discovery of a secret whose implications are so truly mind-blowing, they could literally alter the entire course of mankind's future... for better or worse... depending on whether Angelo can find the courage to think with his heart and not with his mind.
From the moment I picked up My Father's Voice, Alan Cohen definitely had my attention - despite the fact that I didn't actually like Angelo Mann to begin with. By the time I got a quarter of the way through I had not only laughed out loud in several places (something that I rarely do when reading), but the writer in me was really beginning to appreciate Cohen's ability to manipulate my emotions. By the half way mark, I was so completely involved in every aspect of Angelo's personal and spiritual struggles that I actually stayed up till 5am to find out how the story finished.
I won't spoil your enjoyment by revealing any more details about the astonishing secret that Angelo Mann uncovers (just trust me when I say that it really does have some pretty mind-boggling ramifications). Suffice to say that in My Father's Voice Alan Cohen fulfills all the most important criteria for any spiritually-oriented novel - i.e., to raise questions that challenge and stretch a reader's mind in order to open his or her eyes to higher possibilities, and to prompt us to examine the patterns of thought and behavior we absorb from our parents, teachers and religion that often dictate the (usually unsatisfactory) paths we take and the decisions we make. What's more, he has managed to weave his uniquely inspiring parable about the importance of love, tolerance and forgiveness into a framework that's so riveting and exciting, it never once sags in the middle or fizzles out to a disappointing finish.
Even those who have no interest in metaphysics or spiritual concepts cannot fail to be gripped by this roller-coaster of a spiritual adventure that not only deserves to reach the top of the metaphysical bestseller lists; but also would make an excellent movie. (Are you listening, Mr. Spielberg?)
—PLW Book Review