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In Brief

The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of the Lost and Found
by Frederick Buechner
HarperSanFranscisco
183 pp.; $18

The phrase "disclosure impulse" has been used to describe the compulsion to talk, uninvited, about one's self. A well-crafted memoir, by contrast, invites one person to take a look into the life of another: it is the reader's prerogative to be entranced or bored, empathetic or apathetic, with the life presented.

In some measure, many of Frederick Buechner's works are memoirs. The Eyes of the Heart gazes backward and outward at his life and its meaning through the "literary window" of his Vermont home. Affectionately he directs the reader's eye toward the objects he has kept in sight around him—a bust of the poet James Merrill, pictures of loved ones, treasured books, knicknacks—and what they summon to remembrance.

As a man in his seventies ("I think a lot about dying these days"), Buechner is in some ways more in touch with those who have died—his wife's mother, his brother, his long-lost father—than with those who remain. Probing questions are the only kind he asks himself: How much of his forebears' character remains in him? Will anything of who he is be retained by his grandchildren? Rather than being sentimental or morose, instead the effect is moving. We sense that one sees with greater depth and wonder at his age than at earlier stages of life.

Buechner's was a childhood prone to disruption, and so he cherishes exquisitely the world he inhabits as a man of mature years. He allows that this might be his last book and so takes a hard look at his forebears, making peace with them or paying them tribute, as the case requires.

Writers' attempts to balance faith and art always come in for scrutiny, and Buechner is candid about his own: "For fear of overstating I have often tended especially in my non-fiction books to understate, because that seemed a more strategic way of reaching the people I would most like to reach."

In his novels, Buechner ...

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