How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem

Rod Dreher. Regan Arts, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-941393-32-1

After Dreher's sister's untimely death, Dreher (The Little Way of Ruthie Leming) returns with his wife and children to live in the Louisiana parish where he was born. He hopes to reconnect with his family, but they regard him as different and arrogant. Grieving and frustrated that his family won't accept him, Dreher is nearly overcome by a stress-exacerbated illness. Reading Dante's Divine Comedy sets him on a path to healing, and he decides that to seek ultimate satisfaction in anything but God is to pursue a fool's errand. Though the writing is often beautiful and sometimes wise, the book doesn't live up to the virtues it extols. Each chapter ends with a how-to box of occasionally anodyne self-help advice (“Find the dragons hiding [inside your own heart], slay them, and bring back the treasure that will help you live well"). Such platitudes undermine Dreher's insistence that narratives, particularly Dante's, are uniquely life-changing. It's clear that reading Dante—and getting some good counseling—helped Dreher overcome despair and learn the meaning of love and forgiveness, but his personal solution is far from universally applicable. Agent: Gary Morris, David Black Agency. (Apr.)