The Wizard’s Tide

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE WIZARD’S TIDE is Frederick Buechner’s first work of fiction since the historical novel BRENDAN (1987), which re-creates the world of fifth and sixth century Ireland. Like that novel, THE WIZARD’S TIDE affirms the hard-won but final victory of hope over despair, faith over nihilism, yet whereas BRENDAN is one of Buechner’s best books, THE WIZARD’S TIDE is among his least satisfying.

“This is a story about Teddy Schroeder and his sister, Bean, and about some things that happened to them when they were children,” Buechner begins. “It is a mostly true story.” As the tone of this opening suggests, Buechner set a difficult task for himself: He set out to write one of those rare books which appeal equally to children and adults. (A few lines into the book that ambition is made explicit.) Moreover, the story he proposed to tell was based on the most traumatic--and perhaps most significant--event in his own life: the suicide of his father, recounted earlier in the memoir THE SACRED JOURNEY (1982).

Perhaps the very intensity of the experience made it impossible for Buechner to transmute it successfully into fiction. In any case, the result is a book uncertain in tone, not quite right either for children or adults. There are marvelous moments, though, when Buechner succeeds entirely in enabling the reader to see through the eyes of an eleven-year-old, with the mixture of bafflement and unclouded insight that only a child possesses.