The complicated and often treacherous relationship between religious master and student fuels Hurley’s quietly chilling debut. In her early 20s, aimless, and grieving the recent death of her father, Nicole begins attending a zendo in the Boston area and is drawn to the master who dispenses wisdom there. He selects her out of the group for a secret sexual relationship, which continues for years. The bulk of the novel takes place 10 years after their meeting, with Nicole attempting to break away from their dysfunctional relationship by moving to New York, where her brother lives with his family, and making a life for herself. It backtracks through the intervening years and through Nicole’s childhood and adolescence, when she began to doubt the Catholic faith she was raised on and became drawn to Buddhism as a replacement. Though Hurley occasionally enters the point of view of the otherwise-unnamed master, he remains a shadowy figure. Nicole’s spiritual journey is realistically convoluted, and Hurley subtly brings out the parallels between the potential for sexual abuse in Buddhism and Catholicism. This thoughtful novel carefully untangles the often knotty interconnection between romantic and religious love, revealing the dangers inherent in each without denying their value. (Aug.)
[An] intimate, fluid debut...The beauty ofThe Devotedlies in its intricate descriptions of religion's hush and ritual... [A] novel as tender and fervent as a prayer.”
New York Times Book Review
A belated coming-of-age novel with a quest at its core,The Devotedis an assured and promising debut.”
[Hurley's] hand is confident and steady as she layers Zen teachings into the already complicated history of her novel's focal character... Hurley leaves you thinking and sorting through feelings long after her final page.
Provocative... [A] terrifying but insightful warning not to look for easy answers offered by false prophets.
In Blair Hurley’sbeautifully written first novel a young woman charts a spiritual journey into the rigors of Zen Buddhism in a Boston storefront Zendo, under the guidance of a charismatic Master who soon becomes her lover…A suspenseful and warmly engaging coming-of-age story.
Blair Hurley is a gorgeous writer. This novel brims with startling and organic metaphors that fuel, like Zen koans, the heart of a remarkable story. Unlike the Boston films of late, The Devoted gets the accents right.”
Blair Hurley’s first novel is a sharp-eyed account of the psychological and sexual hold a spiritual ‘master’ can get on a lost young woman. What could have seemed like a fable in other hands, in Hurley’s is mordant and convincing. A spectacular debut!
Blair Hurley’s The Devoted is a thrilling, deep, fun, intense look at sex and faith, at East and West, at fraud and truth, at love and what it means to lose love. A remarkable debut, and more: a great read.”
The Devoted is a beautifully written story of the seductions of faith, its many desperations both light and dark. A most absorbing and psychologically astute novel that announces Blair Hurley as a brave new talent.”
In this unique, surprising novel, Hurley writes not just with open eyes, but with open mind and open heart, exploring the ways we try to escape from others and from ourselves. The Devoted fearlessly tackles big questions of belief, identity, love, loss, and transformation.”
In luminous prose, Blair Hurley explores the lines between devotion and entrapment, between the search for self and the attempt to lose oneself entirely. Beneath each measured line is a fiery intelligence. The Devoted is a beautiful debut.”
A young woman's life is controlled by her Zen Buddhist master in this debut novel about spirituality and sexual power.Nicole is having an affair with her Zen master. He spies her, a damaged spiritual seeker, in his Boston Zendo, "pretty in a half formed way," and he begins to groom her to abandon her sense of self while he takes advantage of her naiveté. She has a troubled past, and she goes to the Zendo in search of a connection that he is happy to abuse during their backroom private sessions. Nicole is haunted by guilt from her Catholic upbringing and a harsh secret involving her past as a teenage runaway; her master uses this to wrap her around his finger. "You are mine," he tells her. "No other teacher will want you, once you have been shaped by my instruction." Though her master makes a point of distancing himself from the patriarchal structure and rules of Catholicism, Nicole—who once wanted to be a nun and who rebelled against a strictly religious mother—is drawn to his firm commands. Even when she wants most fervently to escape him, her body responds to his voice "like church bells, like the smell of incense." Their sexual relationship lasts a decade. "They were teacher and student, very old, accustomed friends; [yet] each time he let his hand travel up her skirt, the shock was fresh." When Nicole realizes the relationship is too controlling and tries to take some liberty by moving away, making a new friend, and finding a new Zendo, her master creeps his way into her new life. He finds her and forces her hand: Abandon life as she knows it to be rid of him, or submit and be his.Not quite a spiritual thriller but a thoughtful exploration of faith, surrender, and ecstasy.
Nicole Hennessey was raised in a devout Catholic home in Boston. Then in her teens, she discovered Buddhism, which moved her in a way far beyond her family's religion. Despite her dabbling in sex and drugs, Nicole seeks answers from Zen Buddhist teachings, or koans, and eventually finds a spiritual teacher. However, the guru's hold on Nicole evolves into something complicated and unyielding until finally she runs away to live near her brother in New York. Hurley's outstanding first novel tells an engrossing tale about a young woman seeking a spirituality that can only be found within herself. It also speaks to the motivations of those around her—some love her, some use her for their own needs, and others are too selfish to consider her desires at all. As she moves through tragedy after tragedy, Nicole continues to find strength in her Zen beliefs and makes a new life. VERDICT All lovers of great fiction with complex characters as well as anyone fascinated by narratives about religious cults will want this insightful story.—Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS