My Adven­tures with God

  • Review
By – May 16, 2017

Pre­mier char­ac­ter actor Stephen Tobolowsky offers a wide-rang­ing mem­oir in the form of a series of remark­able vignettes. He sees him­self as a man of faith who remains a ques­tion­er, a man whose out­look involves an inter­nal com­pe­ti­tion between expe­ri­ence and more for­mal modes of learn­ing. Light dos­es of Torah and Tal­mud inter­act with mem­o­ries of crises, illu­mi­na­tions, loss­es, and unal­loyed sat­is­fac­tions. Tobolowsky’s insights are often humor­ous, but nev­er cru­el. He takes us on a remark­able voy­age – he is a sophis­ti­cat­ed every­man, a com­mit­ted yet some­what rest­less Jew, and a pro­found and flu­id storyteller.

The over­all sto­ry could be accu­rate­ly labeled The Mak­ing of a Mensch.”

In telling his sto­ries, Tobolowsky draws amaz­ing­ly effi­cient por­traits of those who meant the most to him: his par­ents and chil­dren, his first and sec­ond wives, his sec­ond-grade heart­throb, close friends, and rab­bis and oth­ers from whom he gained under­stand­ing and solace. As a man trained to inhab­it a char­ac­ter, he has an instinct for the telling detail. As a man trained to deliv­er his part of a script­ed con­ver­sa­tion, he has an ear for recre­at­ing the vivid and mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tions of times gone by.

The vignettes are grouped into sev­er­al sec­tions whose titles rein­force Tobolowsky’s devel­op­ment as a com­mit­ted mem­ber of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. You will rec­og­nize the echoes: Begin­nings, Exo­dus: A Love Sto­ry, The Call, Wilder­ness, and The Words That Become Things. With­in these sec­tions, which hold between five and eight sto­ries (in some cas­es linked sto­ries), Tobolowsky dis­plays his mar­velous abil­i­ty to draw mean­ing­ful com­par­isons between the dis­tant past, today, and stops along the way. Though the plan is pri­mar­i­ly chrono­log­i­cal, it is not always so. Some­times, episodes are linked by asso­ci­a­tion rather than by chronol­o­gy. Some­times, it is nec­es­sary to pro­ceed backwards.

The author shares with us his inter­ests and his explo­rations of books both sacred and sec­u­lar. He attests to the impor­tance of dreams in his life, which he tells us whis­per rather than roar.” He is a man open to epipha­nies. He is a man open to the mys­ter­ies of sci­ence and the pos­si­ble par­al­lels, if not nec­es­sar­i­ly links, between sci­en­tif­ic thought and reli­gious experience.

Tobolowsky’s use of the word adven­tures” in the title sug­gests an atti­tude of open­ness, of seek­ing and accept­ing chal­lenges. The book has a humor­ous tone. Through­out, it is this humor that floats the friend­ly schol­ar­ship, seri­ous intent, and occa­sion­al des­per­a­tion of an exem­plary seek­er. This book is good for the Jews. It’s good for those who appre­ci­ate won­der­ful stories.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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