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House of Prayer No. 2

Cover of House of Prayer No. 2

House of Prayer No. 2

A Writer's Journey Home

In this otherworldly memoir of extraordinary power, Mark Richard, an award-winning author, tells his story of growing up in the American South with a heady Gothic mix of racial tension and religious fervor.

Called a "special child," Southern social code for mentally--and physically--challenged children, Richard was crippled by deformed hips and was told he would spend his adult life in a wheelchair. During his early years in charity hospitals, Richard observed the drama of other broken boys' lives, children from impoverished Appalachia, tobacco country lowlands, and Richmond's poorest neighborhoods. The son of a solitary alcoholic father whose hair-trigger temper terrorized his family, and of a mother who sought inner peace through fasting, prayer, and scripture, Richard spent his bedridden childhood withdrawn into the company of books.

As a young man, Richard, defying both his doctors and parents, set out to experience as much of the world as he could--as a disc jockey, fishing trawler deckhand, house painter, naval correspondent, aerial photographer, private investigator, foreign journalist, bartender and unsuccessful seminarian--before his hips failed him. While digging irrigation ditches in east Texas, he discovered that a teacher had sent a story of his to the Atlantic, where it was named a winner in the magazine's national fiction contest launching a career much in the mold of Jack London and Mark Twain.

A superbly written and irresistible blend of history, travelogue, and personal reflection, House of Prayer No. 2 is a remarkable portrait of a writer's struggle with his faith, the evolution of his art, and of recognizing one's singularity in the face of painful disability. Written with humor and a poetic force, this memoir is destined to become a modern classic.

From the Hardcover edition.

In this otherworldly memoir of extraordinary power, Mark Richard, an award-winning author, tells his story of growing up in the American South with a heady Gothic mix of racial tension and religious fervor.

Called a "special child," Southern social code for mentally--and physically--challenged children, Richard was crippled by deformed hips and was told he would spend his adult life in a wheelchair. During his early years in charity hospitals, Richard observed the drama of other broken boys' lives, children from impoverished Appalachia, tobacco country lowlands, and Richmond's poorest neighborhoods. The son of a solitary alcoholic father whose hair-trigger temper terrorized his family, and of a mother who sought inner peace through fasting, prayer, and scripture, Richard spent his bedridden childhood withdrawn into the company of books.

As a young man, Richard, defying both his doctors and parents, set out to experience as much of the world as he could--as a disc jockey, fishing trawler deckhand, house painter, naval correspondent, aerial photographer, private investigator, foreign journalist, bartender and unsuccessful seminarian--before his hips failed him. While digging irrigation ditches in east Texas, he discovered that a teacher had sent a story of his to the Atlantic, where it was named a winner in the magazine's national fiction contest launching a career much in the mold of Jack London and Mark Twain.

A superbly written and irresistible blend of history, travelogue, and personal reflection, House of Prayer No. 2 is a remarkable portrait of a writer's struggle with his faith, the evolution of his art, and of recognizing one's singularity in the face of painful disability. Written with humor and a poetic force, this memoir is destined to become a modern classic.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Move the family to Kirbyville, Texas, where the father cruises timber in the big woods. Fill the back porch with things the father brings home: raccoons, lost bird dogs, stacks of saws, and machetes. Give the child a sandbox to play in, in which scorpions build nests. Let the mother cut the grass and run over rattlesnakes, shredding them all over the yard. Make the mother cry and miss her mother. Isolate her from the neighbors because she is poor and Catholic. For playmates, give the child a mongoloid girl who adores him. She is the society doctor's child and is scared of thunder. When it storms, she hides, and only the special child can find her. The doctor's wife comes to the house in desperation. Please help me find my daughter. Here she is, in the culvert, behind a bookcase, in a neighbor's paper tepee. Please come to a party, the doctor's wife sniffs, hugging her daughter. At the party, it goes well for the nervous mother and the forester father until their son bites the arm of a guest and the guest goes to the hospital for stitches and a tetanus shot. The special child can give no reason why.

    Move the family to a tobacco county in Southside Virginia. It is the early sixties, and black families still get around on mule and wagon. Corn grows up to the backs of houses even in town. Crosses burn in yards of black families and Catholics. Crew cut the special child's hair in the barbershop where all the talk is of niggers and nigger-lovers. Give the child the responsibility of another playmate, the neighbor two houses down, Dr. Jim. When Dr. Jim was the child's age, Lee left his army at Appomattox. When Dr. Jim falls down between the corn rows he is always hoeing, the child must run for help. Sometimes the child just squats beside Dr. Jim sprawled in the corn and listens to Dr. Jim talking to the sun. Sometimes in the orange and grey dust when the world is empty, the child lies in the cold backyard grass and watches the thousands of starlings swarm Dr. Jim's chimneys, and the child feels like he is dying in an empty world.

    The child is five years old.

    Downstairs in the house the family shares is a rough redneck, a good man who brought a war bride home from Italy. The war bride thought the man was American royalty because his name was Prince. Prince was just the man's name. The Italian war bride is beautiful and has borne two daughters, the younger is the special child's age. The elder is a teenager who will soon die of a blood disease. The beautiful Italian wife and the special child's mother smoke Salems and drink Pepsi and cry together on the back steps. They both miss their mothers. In the evening Prince comes home from selling Pontiacs, and the forester father comes home from the forest, and they drink beer together and wonder about their wives. They take turns mowing the grass around the house.

    The company the father works for is clearing the land of trees. The father finds himself clearing the forests off the old battlefields from the Civil War. The earthworks are still there, stuff is still just lying around. He comes home with his pockets full of minie balls. He buys a mine detector from an Army surplus store, and the family spends weekends way deep in the woods. One whole Sunday the father and the mother spend the day digging and digging, finally unearthing a cannon-sized piece of iron agate. The mother stays home after that. On Sunday nights she calls her mother in Louisiana and begs to come home. No, her mother says. You stay. She says this in Cajun French.

    The little girl downstairs is named Debbie. The special child and Debbie play under the big pecan tree where the corn crowds the yard. One day the special child makes nooses...

About the Author-
  • MARK RICHARD is the author of two award-winning short story collections, The Ice at the Bottom of the World and Charity, and the novel Fishboy. His short stories and journalism have appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, Vogue, and GQ. He is the recipient of the PEN/Hemingway Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Whiting Foundation Writer's Award. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their three sons.

Reviews-
  • Entertainment Weekly "Read Richard's amazing memoir House of Prayer No. 2 -- read it as soon as you can, you'll barrel through it -- and you'll know after just two pages of his effortlessly killer prose that he's special all right ... Narrating, mostly, through the best use of second-person urgency since Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, he describes being a disc jockey, a deckhand, a private eye, a ditchdigger. The man can tell a full story in the flick of a phrase ... Hallelujah. A"
  • The New York Times Book Review "An absorbing account of growing up in the 1960s South, living with a disability, becoming a writer and finding faith. Richard's book attests to the power of words (and the Word) in shaping a life, while at the same time challenging some dearly held beliefs about memoir as a genre ... [His] special childhood results in considerable powers of observation, empathy and imagination ... Richard is a fiercely gifted writer."
  • The Wall Street Journal "A liberating demonstration of the power of faith."
  • The Christian Science Monitor "Deploying the second person in a memoir, as Mark Richard does in the entrancing House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home, is like dropping an atomic bomb. Richard's prose is gorgeous -- and hits with a force that sometimes stuns ... His propulsive prose makes House of Prayer No. 2 a surprising page turner ... Where other memoirists -- evangelical and/or literary -- just bluff and brag, he makes art."
  • The New Yorker "So varied, dramatic, and, at times, incredible that it is bound to leave almost every reader with the feeling that they haven't lived at all ... I loved every word of it."
  • Fredericksburg Free Lance--Star "House of Prayer No. 2 is a surreal and poetic memoir about faith, self-discovery and forming an artistic inner life."
  • Roy Blount, Jr. "Hot damn! And Glory be! Both. This is a wonderful book."
  • Padgett Powell "If Mark Richard could not write, you could not read this. Since he can, you can't not read it. It is unreal, and Mr. Richard has the wit to make it real."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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