The Church Of Golf, by Spencer Stevens
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review.]
It is rare when I read a book and am taken back to my high school experience in reading an author who, like Hemingway, captures the mindset and worldview of a man’s man. There is no question that this book is written like a man’s version of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, in that it talks about a glorious tropical island, in Hawaii’s Lanai, with geographic descriptions almost as luscious as the author’s focus on passionate no-strings-attached sex, sometimes in the context of adultery and sometimes in the context of concubinage. The writing is muscular, full of swear words and a high tolerance to conflict, and the hero is not an entirely sympathetic character but one that has a clear arc of development from being a lazy washed-up car salesmen to the leader of a community of misfits and a multimillionaire based around a golf community where the game is taken as seriously as by some of the Church of God ministers I have known in the past.
For those who are not offended by the language and worldview of this book, which glorifies a casual approach to needs-based sex and casual swearing, this book has a surprising heart, but one that will require reading until the afterword to see. At the risk of spoiling the surprise, the main character of the book, Donald, is based on a real-life friend of the author’s who struggled with poor decisions and alcoholism and ended up dying in his thirties. The fact that this novel gives the author’s friend, at least fictionally, a second chance at a better life to live up to his potential free of his demons of personal background, gives the novel a rich emotional depth. Particularly poignant as well is the way in which golf, with its manicured view of God’s Creation, is seen as a way of getting in touch with nature suggests a desire to return to paradise, even in the way the book celebrates nudity, a suggestion of a desire to enjoy the freedom and openness before mankind’s first sins. The fact that this novel is set mostly in the time before the open awareness of AIDS is also revealing, in that it seems to suggest a time when there were fewer consequences of the casual sexuality the author seems to idealize.
At the basis of this book is a certain worldview that demands some serious attention. The author, through his mouthpiece “Kahunah,” defends the view that people can behave kindly and morally without formal religion, with a broad path to mutual tolerance and acceptance with the shared bond of golf and enjoying a tropical paradise. To be sure, the author does not paint this morality in elevated terms–the morality demonstrated is consideration and generosity towards others, a common morality that is generally accessible to human beings, and not a morality that includes sexual purity or purity in language and thought. Such a morality is beyond mere human effort, and requires divine assistance, such as is lacking in this novel except in divine providence. There is a great deal of poignancy as well in the fact that the author views the paradise of Lanai as being accessible only to misfits on the run from themselves and unable to fit in anywhere else, as his remote island paradise appears to resemble a leper colony, at least of the social leper variety that I am personally familiar with. Additionally, the author seems to believe that a second chance is impossible without making a dramatic break from life, from troubled marriages and situations of debt and despondency. It is as if there is no hope in the ability of people to recognize what needs to be changed without a change in scenery. Even if I cannot agree with all that the author says, this is certainly a novel that has an engaging and earthy prose, a great deal of thought and feeling, and a thought-provoking premise. After all, which of us has not wanted a second chance for love and respect, free of the horrible baggage of our lives, and able to fulfill our deepest longings.