Barbara Enrenreich

Living With a Wild God

The world is awash with polemicists, but few as good with the pen as Enrenreich, capable of distilling the essence of someone with a walk-on role in Living With a Wild God, with the additional sub-head of A Non-Believer’s Search for the Truth About Everything, and, it appears to me, incapable of writing a dull line.

“We will get back to my father soon enough,” she writes, “that great man-god and Shiva-like genius of self destruction.” Montana and her home town of Butte are far from the rural idyll portrayed in Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. Explains Enrenreich: “Butte ..a cluster of multi story brick buildings, mostly empty now, and long-dead mining rigs jutting out from a mountainside like a quartz crystal sprouting out of a sheer rock face.”

Much later in the book, as Enrenreich is to learn the hard way with both her parents, nobody escapes Butte without paying a heavy price.

Her up-bringing shares the dark, warped humour which laces, like arsenic, a rain sodden Limerick in Angela’s Ashes. “My mother had been abandoned as a small child to her maternal grandmother, ostensibly because her parents couldn’t afford her, which may have been true at the time, because her father was drinking so heavily.’ Guess you realise why Enrenreich is said to write with unparalleled precision, insight and a rationalist’s unwavering gaze.

Enrenreich, after revisiting an adolescent journal of precocious observations, explores a life-long quest to discover the truth behind the universe in an act of reconciliation with her secular take on the human condition. Despair eventually redirects Enrenreich to an adolescent quest, an Epiphany from the hall of memory – a mystical encounter in a desert – where she attempts to define being an atheist on a stage populated by gods, “numerous and diverse.”

What’s best about Enrenreich is her relentless probing even when she is at the centre of  tug of war by belief, ‘intellectual surrender,’ and faith, a state of self-delusion, while it is her empiricism which keeps the channels open. This book is an argument for the possibility for consciousness sourced anywhere and everywhere. That besides, the writing is superlative, as in “all day the sky sucks steam from the warm seas, dumping it back into the psychotic violence of a late afternoon squall.”

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