cover image Dinner with Buddha

Dinner with Buddha

Roland Merullo. Algonquin, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-56512-928-3

When Otto Ringling embarked on a road trip eight years ago with his Russian monk brother-in-law, Volya Rinpoche, in Breakfast with Buddha, he exposed the spiritual master to the messy intricacies of American society and, in turn, was taught the Buddhist method of self-discovery through meditation and mindfulness. They're on the road again, but this time with graver concerns: middle-aged Otto has experienced a series of life-changing losses, while Rinpoche's seven-year-old daughter may be the next Dalai Lama. Spurred on by crippling uncertainty, they travel through Native American reservations, roadside diners, casinos, homes of broken families, and more. Otto's underlying depression and grief is unearthed during his search for "the tonic for lardy middle-aged discouragement." Merullo masterfully depicts the struggles of practicing mindfulness moment by moment; Otto is not perfect and succumbs to self-defeating thoughts frequently, but it is his effort to learn and improve that serves as a powerful model. Merullo asks readers to be compassionate and conscious in a world of suffering, where following the road map of predictability does not give the best or even the most obvious answers. Otto and Rinpoche learn to "scrape the jadedness" from their habitual reactions in order to be present for themselves and for the world. Merullo's novel is full of nuanced, thoughtful prose and is an immensely satisfying conclusion to the series. Agent: Marly Rusoff, Marly Rusoff Literary Agency. (June)