Amanda Reads: Never Have Lunch with Buddha

I might be about to make myself very unpopular in the eyes of many people who are fond of “literary” fiction, but I was genuinely shocked when I saw the number of four and five star ratings Roland Merullo’s Lunch with Buddha has received on Goodreads. I hate that so much of my reading life lately has been less on the side of “THIS IS AMAZING” and more “meh,” or, even worse, “can I quit this book yet?”

My college roommate and I decided to read this book largely based on the admittedly awesome title, and a premise that seemed to promise amusement–a skeptic gets conned into driving his sister’s spiritual guru across the country, hilarity ensues. I’m not sure there is a word that adequately describes my disappointment with the book; if  I hadn’t been involved in a roomie pact to finish, I would definitely have abandoned this one.

I don’t ever like to pass holistic judgments on books, since everyone has their own taste, but Gina and I were certainly in agreement about our distaste for this particular novel. The plot felt contrived and obvious. I was rarely very surprised by the events, and the spiritual progression of the narrator was a clear course from the beginning, one against which he doesn’t really fight. The fact that the book is told by the present day Otto, looking back on who he used to be, is probably a large part of the problem–the present Otto is already “enlightened,” and views his old self through that lens, which erodes a great deal of the inner turmoil that might have helped this novel to feel a bit more interesting.

Furthermore, there is something about our narrator that is decidedly unlikable; his language smacks of pretension, and his ideas don’t do much better. There is a grating sense of superiority about him that made me want to fling the book away from me. While all narrators don’t necessarily have to be likeable, I personally prefer them to be unlikeable in interesting ways if I’m going to hate them; Otto was neither. He is a relatively flat, predictable character whose story follows an obvious, unsurprising arc. I was genuinely horrified to learn that there are TWO MORE books in this series (that’s right–we have to have breakfast AND dinner with Buddha and Otto before we can be done).

I can’t really say I can think of anyone to whom I would recommend this book. Perhaps if you are the sort of person to whom the distinction of “literary” and “non-literary” means a great deal, the tone in this book might not be as alienating to you as it was to me. Overall, however, I can’t say I feel as if my reading life was very enriched by the inclusion of this book. Needless to say, I won’t be reading the others.

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