Letter to a Man in the Fire

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Throughout his work, from A PALPABLE GOD (1978) to his several volumes of memoirs, novelist and poet Reynolds Price has consistently revealed his faith in a deity, defined as both creator of the universe and intelligent power that breaks through to human consciousness on occasion, revealing “a caring, though enigmatic, God.” Begun as a letter in response to a query from a medical student dying of cancer, Letter to a Man in the Fire: Does God Exist and Does He Care? first became a lecture, delivered at the Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City in 1997, then an essay. In published form, the text covers a scant eighty-six pages. (A twenty-page appendix offers suggestions for further reading.) A series of reflections, what Price calls his “guesses,” the work focuses on the questions posed in the book’s subtitle, the same raised by the now deceased student to whom the book is dedicated. The result is a slim but evocative meditation on the existence of evil and the difficulty of reconciling human suffering with belief in God.

Price does not shun the central dilemmas of his faith: although he affirms through personal experience a healing contact with Jesus, he recognizes the mystery of evil in the world, the contrasting violence and fragile beauty found everywhere in creation. If God exists, as Price believes, He is far more complex than the Father of Christian prayer. Price’s sources include the Bible, particularly the story of Job, but as poet and literary artist, he finds inspiration in the great works of literature: quotations from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Aeschylus’ Agamemnon appear alongside passages from Tertullian and Augustine. Rich in the imagery of fire, this text draws heavily on Judaic-Christian tradition, yet, because it is unorthodox in its interpretations, the insights offered may comfort one of any faith.