The Time of New Weather
New York: Bantam Dell, 2005.
326 pp.; $13.00 (paper)
In his fourth book, the writer and longtime Zen practitioner Sean Murphy gives us a vision of America that is at once familiar and bizarre, a world where even time and gravity are no longer reliable, where diseases like “On-To-The-Next-Thing Syndrome” and “Too-Many-Things-At-Once Disorder” are ravaging the land. An intriguing but sometimes frustrating novel of spiritual search and political revolt, The Time of New Weather tells the stories of Buddy LeBlanc, a strangely precocious boy with a gift for minor miracles, and Bibi Brown, a “reluctant sage” and erstwhile spiritual teacher who lives under a bridge and can meditate himself into near transparency.
Although Murphy avoids the B-word throughout, the Buddhist influences in his work will be unmistakable to anyone familiar with the dharma. Like the historical Buddha, Buddy LeBlanc is propelled on his quest for self-knowledge by three early experiences of suffering, which in his case take the form of an old woman, a sick child, and a dead man. Bibi Brown practices “ancient Mongolian mind-clearing exercises” that sound a lot like traditional Buddhist meditation techniques, and with similar effects, as Hubert, a former Presidential aid and eventual Bibi student, discovers:
At times, Hubert felt as though his mind had been placed in a forge—and, having been heated to impossible new temperatures, was now being twisted into impossible new shapes. But something was happening. Hubert felt old tensions slipping away, habits of mind, worries and preoccupations. And he started noticing the blue of the sky, the shape of a flower, the movement of clouds. He began to feel a part of things, in a way he’d almost forgotten was possible, for the first time since he was a child.
This is one of several strong passages that echo the Buddhist experience. The “new weather” of the book’s title refers to one of several ways the material world has become unhinged in the novel, and this distrust of the physical is another recurring theme. Buddy tells us he has “seen wind blow up from the ground and straight down from the sky, seen snow fall in July and tulips bloom in December.” There are even more bizarre storms, in which “a minor fluctuation in the earth’s increasingly unstable gravitation field would move through an area,” causing “the clatter of whatever was not fastened down.” In the midst of all this chaos, even the President starts meditating.
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