Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tea with Frederick Buechner

By Wendy Murray

Fred Buechner, photo by Wendy Murray
On Rupert Mountain, Vermont, in May 2002, Frederick Buechner is serving tea, no cream, no sugar. I ask him what he means when he writes frequently about God's silence.

I have traveled to Vermont to meet with him in order to write an article for Christianity Today magazine. We have been chatting for about an hour when he decides it is time for tea. He hands me mine and takes his, settling back into his chair.

He says, "It was John Updike who said God saves his deepest silence for his saints. Some people might say, 'The hell with it.' His silence throws me back upon myself and I must search my own depths. I'm still searching, aren't you?" He bobs his tea bag. "If we're not searching, we're dead."

I tell him his novel The Storm left me sad.

"Oh, I disagree," he says. "I think it ends upbeat."

I say, "It feels like [the protagonist] Kenzie Maxwell simply gives up on his dreams and resigns himself to a life of mediocrity."

He replies, "Why, at the end, all these people come together. The brothers are reconciled. Kenzie stops writing his letters to his dead lover."

“But," I say, "at the end of the book Kenzie is lying alone in his bed, wondering about the crazy saints and if what had driven them crazy was their endlessly trying -- as he was -- to find where they really belonged." -- "Has Kenzie found where he belongs?"

"Maybe not," Buechner says. "But he's come a long way."

The Storm's narrator says (of Kenzie): "He thought of himself as a man who wrote because he couldn't think of anything else to do with his delusions." I ask Buechner what he meant.

"I wish I had said 'illusions'," he says. "Kenzie is a self-deprecating illusionist."

I ask, "Which of your novels would be your seminal work? Godric is as close as you've come to writing in your 'life's blood,' as you say. But I believe you could come closer."

He doesn't disagree. Then he adds, "All of my fiction was written with my life's blood."

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