If I were Jewish, I would still write about my faith. I’m not Jewish, and I don’t plan on becoming a Jew. But I am Catholic, and you can probably tell from my writing here at Austin CNM or on my personal blog that I write a lot about my faith. It’s such a huge part of my life that I can’t imagine not writing about it.
Aside from just blogging, though, I have a heart for fiction. I still consider myself a writer, though I might never actually publish a book. I was never much for poetry. Blogging, however, is a form of essay-writing, and I can manage some creative nonfiction now and then. It was my living preference for stories from real life permeated by faith that led me to Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin. In it, Adam Byrn Tritt shares stories of faith, culture, and family, and what happens when they all converge along the Florida coast.
An early high point is the title story, recounting the author’s experience sharing Yom Kippur with friends. He is not observant, so he sees the day only through the eyes of cultural connections to Judaism: a linguist who has studied the words without believing them, friends who mostly want to pray for their beloved dead, and himself, not usually an attendee of that congregation or any. After the service, he goes for a run along a Florida beach, in fall (when Yom Kippur occurs), and shares a beautiful meditation on the fleeting nature of life, the crunchy taste of almonds, and the shock of a dorsal fin just offshore.
The second portrayal of a funeral in this collection offers a rich experience, enhanced by the punch of the first one (a poem). As I’ve experienced myself, there is nothing quite like a funeral to bring personalities, varying levels of religious observance, practical needs, and grief all together in one small space. I have no experience with sitting shiva, but I do have experience with funeral planning. The period of immediate bereavement is the worst time to discuss what people really believe, yet it’s often the only time. For Tritt, languages, wardrobe, food, and the sweltering heat pile on top of an already tense situation, yet he expresses the emotions and events with an attitude of detachment and calm. I knew the situation wasn’t good, but I could also tell it was going to be okay and not okay at the same time. That’s good storytelling.
If for no other reason, you might wonder what Jews do on Christmas, or whether nonbelievers can find any real power (spiritual or physical) in going through the motions of a believer. Somehow, I was excited to read about movie theaters, Chinese restaurants, and Kabbalah chants. Tritt has stories to answer those musings, and they are delightful.
Memoirs of semi-religious people often turn out angry, dispassionate, or sarcastic. This is not. It’s well-organized writing, skillful storytelling, and rich detail. I don’t know if I’ll ever see a shark the same way again.
I received a free Kindle e-book copy of Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin from Smithcraft Press via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks for their generosity!