The Monk Downstairs (Plus)
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Rebecca Martin is a single mother with an apartment to rent and a sense that she has used up her illusions. I had the romantic thing with my first husband, thank you very much, she tells a hapless suitor. I'm thirty-eight years old, and I've got a daughter learning to read and a job I don't quite like. I don't need the violin music. But when the new tenant in her in-law apartment turns out to be Michael Christopher, on the lam after twenty years in a monastery and smack dab in the middle of a dark night of the soul, Rebecca begins to suspect that she is not as thoroughly disillusioned as she had thought.
Her daughter, Mary Martha, is delighted with the new arrival, as is Rebecca's mother, Phoebe, a rollicking widow making a new life for herself among the spiritual eccentrics of the coastal town of Bolinas. Even Rebecca's best friend, Bonnie, once a confirmed cynic in matters of the heart, urges Rebecca on. But none of them, Rebecca feels, understands how complicated and dangerous love actually is.
As her unlikely friendship with the ex-monk grows toward something deeper, and Michael wrestles with his despair while adjusting to a second career flipping hamburgers at McDonald's, Rebecca struggles with her own temptation to hope. But it is not until she is brought up short by the realities of life and death that she begins to glimpse the real mystery of love, and the unfathomable depths of faith.
Beautifully written and playfully engaging, this novel. is about one man wrestling with his yearning for a life of contemplation and the need for a life of action in the world. But it's Rebecca's spirit, as well as her relationships with Mary Martha, Phoebe, her irresponsible surfer ex-husband Rory -- and, of course, the monk downstairs -- that makes this story shine.
unlocked, as she had known it would be. Rebecca reached in through the open window to set the envelope on the driver’s seat, then straightened hastily, feeling a sense of trespass. She glanced uneasily toward the ocean. There were half a dozen surfers in the water, backlit by the late afternoon sun, but she could still recognize Rory instantly, from years of practice. He was sitting up on his board, seal-like in his black wet suit, looking out to sea with the quiet, poised alertness she had
flannel shirt. And she had to admit that the gallantry of the exchange was appealing. She nodded, as casually as possible; Mike took off his jacket and held it up for her, and she slipped into it, one arm and then the other, with a sense of disappearing into warm depths. Sure enough, as she made the little ballet turn to shrug on the second sleeve, their eyes met. She did want to kiss him, and she saw that he wanted to kiss her. They looked at each other for a long moment, and then Mike smiled
serene. She and Mike had agreed to let Rebecca have an evening alone with her daughter, to ease the pace of change, but they were going to meet on the back porch that night after Mary Martha was asleep, and the thought of the rendezvous had been like solid ground all day. The woman at Bee-Well was so surprised to see her on time that she didn’t say anything snide. Mary Martha seemed to be back to normal, chattering about her day while Rebecca ordered a pizza by phone, as a sort of treat and
nine yards.” “I’m sure the man just wants to be left alone, Mother.” “Of course, of course.” Phoebe paused. Rebecca could picture her mother, spry and lean in charcoal gray Nordstrom slacks and running shoes, her silver hair cut short, looking out her kitchen window at the Pacific Ocean, one foot thumping like a rabbit’s, her mind already on to something else. Sure enough, Phoebe said, “I should get going. We’ve got an opening today and I promised Jack I’d help set up.” “Of course. Love you.”
another. The first curve looped disconcertingly close to the labyrinth’s center and she wondered briefly whether she had somehow done something wrong, but then the path turned outward again. Mary Martha whizzed by, a full spiral ahead of her already; at her next turn Rebecca caught a glimpse of Mike sitting contentedly on the bench. He had lit a cigarette and looked wonderfully placid. Rebecca gave him a smile and made her next turn, and her next, and for a moment she was filled with a sudden