The Essence of Nathan Biddle
J. William Lewis
Greenleaf Book Group Press (2021)
Reviewed by Amy Lignor for Reader Views (06/2021)
5* A True Classic. This book is a gift.
“The Essence of Nathan Biddle is a brilliant coming of age tale by J. William Lewis. There were definite reasons why I became an avid reader and writer. My librarian mom was the first and most important who opened the door to it all. But there were also certain titles that hit me right between the eyes. Some of those were placed in the “Classic American” literature category; loosely translated, this means those books teachers still make students study in school because they’ve become a part of our very culture. Holden Caulfield, the introspective teen in Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” was one of those memorable characters imbedded in a coming-of-age plot that was absolutely perfect. After reading this, in my eyes, Kit Biddle—the protagonist in this incredible story—takes his place with Caulfield as being one that readers will treasure for all time.
Kit Biddle is a senior in high school. Among other issues that are “norm” for adolescents, Kit also has to deal with a family tragedy that has his own Uncle Nat at the center of it all. Nat, for lack of a better term, is a real loon. According to his own rendition of the past, Nat committed a horrible act because…he was ordered by the Lord to do so.
Kit also has a deep desire for the dream-like Anna, an intelligent girl who turns away from him and sends him falling into an emotional depression that leads Kit to also make extremely poor decisions. When Kit finds himself in an accident, he is then looking at a near future that is beyond bleak; he must take a long time to recuperate – long enough where he must come to terms with all of life’s anomalies, worries, and the oddities that lie around every corner. He has to take a step back and use this time to come out of the depressive darkness, reevaluate everything in order to better understand the meaning of life, and perhaps even see his Uncle Nat’s choices in a different way.
I love clever authors, and I have to say that J. William Lewis is one of the cleverest I’ve read in a long time. Kit makes the heart sink, cry, scream, and empathize with the character all at the same time. The mixture of Kit, Uncle Nat, Anna, Sarah, and others with their puppet master, Lewis, is extraordinary; even though some characters were meant to be bit players, each and every one is essential to the tale. I could also visualize everything because of how well it’s written, especially Dr. Goolsby and Harbo when it came to the golf course. (Who are they? Read the book!)
The ladder is very high when it comes to novels that are good enough, deep enough, challenging and entertaining enough to be among the true classics. But this…this has definitely ascended that ladder (for me) and taken its place among the best. If this book doesn’t win every award possible for its genre, I will be shocked. 5 Stars, and if I could give 10, I would. Enjoy this; it’s a gift!