(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 33)

Sharon Spiegelman’s first-person narrative begins when she recounts how she and Gary, her dancing partner and lover, leave Cambridge, Massachusetts, for Hawaii, where Gary hopes to work with Brian Williamson, an ornithologist at the University of Hawaii. Gary believes Brian is interested in saving endangered wildlife, but he quickly becomes disillusioned and takes off with another woman for Fiji, leaving Sharon stranded in their hotel with barely enough money to pay their bill. Thus Sharon’s quest for identity and meaning in her life begins.

Sharon accompanies Brian and his students to an island to do research on red-footed boobies, but that adventure is short-lived, and she is disappointed when the research paper does not adequately acknowledge her work on the team. Working at a fast food restaurant, she meets Kekui, a college student dropping out of school for a while to earn money. They fall in love, but Kekui’s parents disapprove of Sharon both because she is not Hawaiian and because she is not a devout Christian as they are. Sharon and Kekui flee to an island paradise on Molokai, where they live until Kekui feels compelled to return to his people after his father dies.

Abandoned once again, Sharon gets another job and meets Wayne, a marine who falls desperately in love with her. He treats her well but is very possessive. On a whaling trip together, Sharon has an extraordinary experience: “The sky swung back in liquid gold, the air mixed with the water. I saw something. It was a whale, but not just a whale. It was a vision of God.” The vision is a turning point in Sharon’s life, because from then on she is on a religious quest. Her life completely changes. She breaks up with Wayne, who is unsympathetic about her experience, and alters everything else in her life, getting a new job, a new place to live, and new friends.

Sharon’s new housemates are Baron and Thad, whom everyone calls T-Bone. They are big men who love to party but are very generous and decent to Sharon. Sharon also gets a cat, whom she names Marlon. She now works for a religious couple, the Lius, who run a jewelry shop in the Ala Moana Shopping Center. They take an interest in Sharon and, together with their pastor, the Reverend MacLaren, try to convert her to Christianity. Sharon is open to the idea and studies hard, feeling some of the love and gentle warmth with which the religion tries to fill her, but ultimately, it does not take, and taking drugs does not help, either. Nevertheless, she is intent on finding God somehow.

Sharon gets a new job at the Good Earth, a health food store, where the manager, Kim, suggests that she go on a retreat to the Consciousness Meditation Center, a 1950’s Buddhist ranch. Attracted to their way of life, Sharon gives the monks all her earthly goods, including her grandfather’s silver watch that has been a good luck charm for her. This religious experience also fails, and Sharon returns to her house, her friends, and her cat. She gets a new job and a new place to live. Continuing her quest for religious enlightenment, she enrolls at the University of Hawaii as a part-time religious studies major. Her first course is very satisfying, but the second one, by a far less charismatic teacher, is a disaster. She abruptly walks out during a boring lecture by an arrogant professor on St. Augustine. Meanwhile, she hears from Gary, who has become a convert to orthodox Judaism in Jerusalem.

After some correspondence with him, Sharon flies to Jerusalem to meet Gary, hoping they can pick up again, not where they left off but in a new, religious way. Sharon takes instruction at a yeshiva, where she lives among other women, but she finds the strict orthodoxy that Gary has embraced very hard to bear. Thanks to Rabbi Everett Siegel back in Hawaii, who persuaded her to teach folk dancing to a group of elderly ladies in his synagogue, Sharon has earned enough money for her trip. Rabbi Siegel is also very eager to help Sharon recover her Jewish roots, and it is during one of their conversations that Sharon has another profound religious experience—learning to listen to another person who is reaching out to her. Listening well is something that Sharon, a rather wild, free spirit, has never been able to do, for she has been too self-absorbed most of her life. Before she goes to Jerusalem to meet Gary, Rabbi Siegel teaches...

(The entire section is 1778 words.)