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Edgar Award-winner and internationally bestselling novelist tells of his improbable conversion from agnostic Jewish-intellectual to baptized Christian and of the books that led him there.
“Had I stumbled on the hallelujah truth, or just gone mad—or, that is, had I gone mad again?”
No one was more surprised than Andrew Klavan when, at the age of fifty, he found himself about to be baptized. Best known for his hard-boiled, white-knuckle thrillers and for the movies made from them—among them True Crime (directed by Clint Eastwood) and Don’t Say a Word (starring Michael Douglas)—Klavan was born in a suburban Jewish enclave outside New York City. He left the faith of his childhood behind to live most of his life as an agnostic in the secular, sophisticated atmosphere of New York, London, and Los Angeles. But his lifelong quest for truth—in his life and in his work—was leading him to a place he never expected.
In The Great Good Thing, Klavan tells how his troubled childhood caused him to live inside the stories in his head and grow up to become an alienated young writer whose disconnection and rage devolved into depression and suicidal breakdown. But he also stumbled into a genuine romance, a passionate and committed marriage whose uncommon and enduring devotion convinced him of the reality of love.
In those years, Klavan fought to ignore the insistent call of God, a call glimpsed in a childhood Christmas at the home of a beloved babysitter, in a transcendent moment at his daughter’s birth, and in a snippet of a baseball game broadcast that moved him from the brink of suicide. But more than anything, the call of God existed in stories—the stories Klavan loved to read and the stories he loved to write.
The Great Good Thing is the dramatic, soul-searching story of a man born into an age of disbelief who had to abandon everything he thought he knew in order to find his way to the truth.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Andrew Klavan is an award-winning writer, screenwriter, and media commentator. An internationally bestselling novelist and two-time Edgar Award-winner, Klavan is also a contributing editor to City Journal, the magazine of the Manhattan Institute, and the host of a popular political podcast on DailyWire.com. His essays and op-eds on politics, religion, movies, and literature have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, and elsewhere. He lives in Southern California.
Read an Excerpt
The Great Good Thing
A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ
By ANDREW KLAVAN
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Amalgamated Metaphor
All rights reserved.
Great Neck Jew
The town I grew up in is named Great Neck. It is situated on a peninsula on the north shore of Long Island, about twenty-five miles east of Manhattan. It was, in my boyhood, as it is today, a wealthy town, a well-tailored suburban refuge from the swarming city.
The riches here weren't inherited, they were earned. Great Neck had been associated with new money at least since the twenties, when F. Scott Fitzgerald used parts of it as the inspiration for the West Egg of his novel The Great Gatsby. In my teens, I dated a girl who lived in a mansion that sat pretty near where Gatsby's sat, if not on the very spot. I remember chasing her once through the high grass on the flatlands below her hilltop home, breaking out into the open to catch her on the shore of Manhasset Bay. "There" she said breathlessly, as I wrapped my arms around her. Pointing across the dark water, she told me: There was Sands Point, the East Egg of the novel, where the green light had shone. Gatsby, a self-made man, a bootlegger with aspirations toward elegance, would often gaze across the water at that spot, as we were doing now. He would dream of finding his lost love Daisy and of entering her world of old money and sophistication and class.
Great Neck had changed since those days, but in many ways, Gatsby's dream was still alive there. After World War II, the sons and daughters of Jewish immigrants who, like their gentile predecessors, had made enough money to leave the city, began to move out to the luxurious suburb. By the late fifties, when my father — a rising New York disc jockey with a popular morning show — brought his young family there, the town was a haven for newly rich Jews. And like the newly rich Gatsby, they were in love with the dream of WASP American elegance and wanted to become an accepted part of the mainstream and the upper rung.
The result was the town I grew up in — to all appearances a high-end version of the classic 1950s suburb, a place that could have sprung to life from one of the popular television situation comedies of those days: Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet. The Dick Van Dyke Show, in fact, was written and produced by two old friends of my father's and involved a character like the comedian Sid Caesar, himself a Great Neck resident. The show's central family, while not based on my family, bore similarities to us, with its mixture of showbiz temperament and suburban normalcy.
These happy-go-lucky sitcoms edited every trace of dysfunction out of the world I knew. That was a distortion obviously — an ideal. But the ideal and the reality played off each other. The TV shows looked like Great Neck and, consciously or not, Great Neck modeled itself on the shows. Maybe in our real families, Father didn't always know Best. Maybe he wouldn't have known Best if Best rose up and bit him on the leg! But he caught the train to the city every morning. He paid the bills and kept the lights burning, mowed the lawn and fixed the car and backed up mother's discipline with his fearsome presence: he was a father. Maybe real-life Mom didn't vacuum the house flawlessly arrayed in pearls and a pleated skirt like the mother on Leave It to Beaver. Maybe she flirted with the milkman or waited for the kids to go to bed so she could hammer back a couple of mugs of vodka pretending it was tea. But she was there to greet us when we came home from school in the afternoon. She made us dinner, kept watch on us through the kitchen window, put Band-Aids on our scrapes and bruises. She was Mom and that was no small thing, not to us. Likewise big brothers who hit you with a pillow on television, hit you in real life so hard with their fists you saw stars and bluebirds. And little sisters who were virgin princesses on the small screen were harpies from hell on a bad day in the big world. All the same, they were brothers; they were sisters. They did what siblings do: drive you crazy, hurt you, love you, show you the way. The ideal suburbs of TV sitcoms were a fiction, but there was enough truth in that fiction to allow us to recognize our lives.
So Great Neck was a suburb, like all the other suburbs around the country that inspired the television shows that, in turn, inspired us. But in Great Neck, the Great Neck of my childhood, there was one central difference. In those other towns, and in those TV towns that represented them, when Sundays came, the moms and daughters in their best dresses and the dads and sons wearing suits and ties and slicked-back hair would head for church. In Great Neck, the Sabbath was Saturday, and we went to synagogue. We knew this made us different from our Christian counterparts, but we also saw, again, that it looked very much the same.
It was supposed to look the same. It was supposed to be the same, for all intents and purposes. All the cultural machinery of the town was geared toward blending that local discrepancy into the greater national culture. With families named Bernstein and Levine and Schwartz living on streets named Chadwick, Andover, Old Colony, and Piccadilly, Great Neck was a sort of gigantic contraption engineered to assimilate upper-middle-class Jews into the predominant Protestant-American society around them. If there was any potential conflict between our two cultural identities — if we even had two cultural identities — no one told us so, no one outside our homes anyway, no one I knew.
Sure, there were families that were more religious than mine, more rooted in their Jewishness. There were houses where some grandparent with an accent and a grudge kept the Old World hostilities alive and kicking. But not outside, not on the rolling lawns, not on the happy anglophile Great Neck streets, not for me or for my friends. For us, in school, when we were taught about "our history," it was American history. When we learned about "our forefathers," they were the American founders. Until I was eleven or so, I thought I was a direct descendant of George Washington and Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. To my mind, they were as much my ancestors as Moses and David and the rest of the biblical gang.
Then, as now, I never thought of myself as anything but American. My values were American values: freedom above all things, live-and-let-live tolerance, truth, justice, fair play. My games were American games. My heroes were the same as the heroes of the other kids around the country: astronauts and Davy Crockett, baseball players, Superman and the president. What's more, since so many of the kids I knew were Jewish, most of the typical characters in an American kid's life were, in my life, also Jews. In a gentile town, maybe the odd Jewish kid or two would stand out. Maybe they'd have been relegated to stereotypical Jewish roles: outsiders, scholars, yeshiva boys, swots. But in my town, the high school football heroes were Jews and the lover boys were Jews and so were the beauty queens and the hoydens and many of the delinquents as well. When we were little at least, the idea that our Jewishness might somehow prevent us from being fully American — from being fully what we so obviously were — simply did not exist among the kids I knew.
Nor did it ever occur to us — it never occurred to me, anyway — that any differences between the Jewish and gentile kids in town were due to race or religion. Great Neck's population was about 50 percent Jewish. And while the Jews tended to cluster together in their neighborhoods, the gentile kids at school were never excluded, or even noted as gentile. That my one or two gentile pals went to church on Sunday or had pictures of Jesus in their houses were matters of interest, but not very much interest really.
There was no racial animosity among us that I saw. There was hardly even any racial awareness. I was thirty years old — literally thirty — before I realized that a certain number of the fistfights I had gotten into in junior high school had begun when some large Polish Catholic lummox had started picking on some smaller Jewish geek. At the time, there had been no appearance of anything racial or religious in the conflict. No one had slung any racial slurs or taunts in either direction. It was just a big guy picking on a little guy, that's all I knew.
I was aware there was such a thing as anti-Semitism. Of course I was: my father was obsessed with it, increasingly obsessed as the years went on. The Holocaust had ended not twenty years before. So, sure, we all knew it was there. But it was a foreign thing, we thought, and a thing of the past. I never actually experienced it as a little kid. Not once. When I was fifteen or sixteen, during one of the very last fights I was ever in, my opponent called me a kike. That was the first time that had ever happened. Even then, it seemed only tangentially connected to my Jewish identity. The fight hadn't been about that. The guy's girlfriend had been flirting with me over a pinball game in the local bowling alley. The guy had gotten tough about it and we stepped outside to settle the matter. As the guy's punk friends encircled us, shouting, we duked it out and I got the better of him. He screamed the slur after me as I walked away. I was startled — I'd never heard the word used seriously before — but I shrugged it off. Nowadays people get hysterical over such "hate speech." But really, let's face it, you have to have some nasty thing to call your enemies. If I'd been Irish or black or Italian, the kid would have called me something else. I didn't think he hated Jews. I still don't think so. I just think he hated getting dusted in front of his pals.
No. I was an American. In Great Neck, we were all Americans. We said the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag every morning in school. We went to the Fourth of July parade. We played baseball and watched baseball on TV and collected baseball cards and traded them and gambled them in a million different makeshift games. When I was seven and the New York Yankees' Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's home run record, I jumped up and down on my bed, cheering, as the news came over the radio (even though I was secretly a little disappointed it hadn't been my hero Mickey Mantle who'd won the day). When I was nine and a boy rushed into our fourth-grade classroom to announce that "the Reds killed Kennedy," that was my president who had been murdered, my nation that mourned, my world, the only world I knew, that had turned upside-down. I was an American, through and through. I am one still.
That was why so many decades later, when I felt myself called to faith in Jesus Christ, when, distraught and in confusion, I drove up into the mountains to question the integrity of my convictions, to cross-examine my motives day after day, week after week, month after month, I had to ask myself: Was this a real religious conversion or was it merely the final stage in the process of assimilation that had begun in my hometown so long ago? Was I putting on the whole armor of God or merely joining the church of the majority?
Are you a Jew?
From time to time, someone in the wider world would ask this question of a Great Neck teenager. And so often, he or she would answer, "Well, my parents are."
Well, my parents are. Or as Jonathan Miller put it in the British comedy revue Beyond the Fringe, "I'm not really a Jew. Just Jew-ish. I never went the whole hog." Jew-ish, that's it. A lot of us Great Neckers said some version of that in our teens. As we came into that age when people begin to think seriously about who they are, being a Jew just felt like, you know, our parents' thing, yesterday's thing, history's, not today's. We had not become ashamed of our Jewishness exactly. It had simply begun to seem alien to us, archaic, extraneous. The turn-of-the-century Russian shtetl Jews in the exuberant musical Fiddler on the Roof — which hit Broadway when I was ten years old — could sing about the joys of "Tradition!" all they liked. But what traditions were they talking about exactly? A smothering, claustrophobic ghetto, estranged from the society around it? An ancient language no one else spoke written in antiquated letters no one else could read? Funny-looking skullcaps? Corkscrew sidelocks? Over-long beards?
Tradition might have been some consolation for our grandfathers in the Old Country. In the Old Country, they had been strangers in a strange land, hated and excluded by the natives. But what did we need it here for, in glorious America? Here, everyone was a stranger and so everyone was part of the mix. Thanks for the Hebrew lesson and the yarmulke, Rabbi, real nice, but oh look, my fellow American just planted my flag on the moon! My flag! On the moon! See you later, Rabbi.
Are you a Jew?
Well, my parents are. Jew-ish.
For each of us, in every Leave It to Beaver house, on Oxford Boulevard and on Plymouth and Cambridge and Hampshire Roads, the path to all-American selfhood was bound to pass through such areas of shadow. They were like the half-lit corridors and corners in a psychic maze from which, with any luck, we would emerge into the light of an integrated cultural identity.
For me, in my house, in my family, it was a maze of multiple dimensions, some passageways haunted, some corners dark.
My parents despised Great Neck in many ways. They constantly spoke of moving — to Manhattan, to California, overseas — but somehow never did, never could. My mother, I suspect, would have hit the road in a heartbeat, given free rein. She didn't particularly take to playing Just Mommy in the suburbs. She loved bright lights and Broadway shows and wanted to live in the city. But my dad was not the traveling kind. Once planted, he stayed. And as he became one of the most popular DJs in the city, living in the high-end suburb felt like success to him, even when it got on his nerves. Still, both he and Mom exhibited a degree of disdain for the town they raised us in, and they taught us, their four sons, to disdain it too. They wanted us to be in it, but not of it.
Our neighbors were nouveau riche, they told us. They were tradesmen who had earned their money later in life. They didn't know how to handle their wealth with the panache of the aristocracy. The irony of hearing this from my dad and mom — the son of a pawnbroker and the daughter of a disbarred ambulance-chasing lawyer who had to move house every other month to beat the landlord — somehow never occurred to us boys, or at least not to me. All I knew was the fact — and it was a fact — that my parents were indeed more urbane, more elegant, more sophisticated, more classy than the parents of many of my friends.
My friends' parents drove insanely massive Cadillacs, each one two tons of garish flash that seemed to take up both lanes on Great Neck's narrow horse-and-buggy roads. My dad, conversely, brought home a chic succession of European compacts: a Citroen, an MG, several Volvos, and the like. Many of my friends lived in mansions with columned porticoes and swimming pools on their acres of land. We had a relatively modest colonial clapboard, gracefully decorated inside by my mother who really did have excellent taste. When we were teenagers, Dad had an asphalt badminton court built in our backyard. But no pool. Never a pool. Pools were garish. Nouveau riche.
Pools were garish and too much jewelry was garish. Fur coats and overly colorful shirts and talking too loud and talking about how much money you had — all nouveau riche. Rambunctious boys though we were, my brothers and I had good manners when we needed them. We learned to speak softly — oh, and most importantly, we never ever spoke with a New York or Long Island accent.
A NuYawk accent! Or, heaven help us, a Lawn Guyland accent — that squawking horror of a dialect that gave the Guyland its nickname! As an up-and-coming performer on both TV and radio, my father had trained any hint of localism out of his voice. An expert at imitating accents and dialects of all kinds, he claimed he could no longer speak in the manner of his native Baltimore (Balmer!) because he had labored so long to unlearn it. He and my mother passed this speech training onto their sons with a passion. No closed vowel or dropped g that escaped our lips went uncorrected. We were told to repeat the phrase, "My family is in a class by itself," not just so as to incorporate the truth of its meaning (as I later realized), but to drill us out of anything that sounded even remotely like, "Muy fehmly is in a clehss buy itself." To this day, my children tease me because I say chahklet and dahnkey rather than chocolate and donkey, having worked so hard as a lad not to say chawklet or dawnkey. Often as I've tried, I find I can't make the adjustment.
Excerpted from The Great Good Thing by ANDREW KLAVAN. Copyright © 2016 Amalgamated Metaphor. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Great Neck Jew, I,
2. Addicted to Dreams, 21,
3. Bar Mitzvah Boy, 43,
4. A Christmas Carol, 57,
5. Tough Guys, 75,
6. Reading the Bible, 95,
7. Experience, 109,
8. A Mental Traveler, 123,
9. Lodestar, 143,
10. Going Crazy, 159,
11. Five Epiphanies, 173,
12. This Thing of Darkness, 211,
13. My Conversion, 233,
14. A New Story, 259,
About the Author, 269,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Andrew Klavan, a writer of hard-boiled detective fiction and mystery novels has written a personal memoir chronicling his journey from secular atheist Jew to devout Christian. If you think you’ve read this story before or that this doesn’t pertain to you, you’re in for surprise. This is not a treacle-laden born-again account of someone comes to faith because of a miracle. HIs conversion is grounded in the story of his life as writer whose ego was unwilling to let him see the presence of God all around him. Klavan’s books have humorous asides and situations sprinkled throughout that are welcome respites from the drama of the narrative. That is no less true in the story. The book is treat for anyone willing to open their mind to the concept that existence is not random.
I absolutely loved this book. The writing itself is phenomenal. The author obviously has a way with the written word and the imagery is wonderful; you can really picture the settings and feel the emotions. He wrote his story in such a way that for me, at least, it was very relatable, but it was also his own experience completely separate from anything I myself have experienced, which made it interesting and entertaining. Additionally, he has a sense of humor which I find very enjoyable. I thought I would read this book leisurely over the course of a couple weeks but I ended up finishing it in 3 days, switching back and forth from my phone to my nook and reading on my breaks at work because I didn't want to put it down. I would honestly recommend this book to pretty much anyone.
Great book, Klavan outdid himself with this great book. Buy it, all of you.
This is a great book, with a great story behind it. It brings to light what really happens when you approach the Gospel of Jesus from an unbiased perspective. This story kept me on the edge of the seat the entire time I read it.
Klaven's memoir is an entertaining, humorous, and descriptive book about his personal spiritual journey. Because there is no undercurrent of proselytization, the read is comfortable, insightful, and easy to relate to, regardless of one's "religious" preferences. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is fascinated by spiritual topics and struggles that characterize all humans ... or, at least, all thinking humans, regardless of one's background.
Phenomenal read! Blown away by the quality of writing and poiniant ability to select moments from Klavan's life that brought him to the point of decision. Could not put it down! Highly recommend.