Why should anyone want to read about doubt or spiritual alienation?

Well — doubt and even anguish are, I think, unavoidable aspects of the spiritual life.  They are part of the choreography of the spiritual life.

Indeed, it happens, I think, to almost everyone who pursues a spiritual life: at some point, you hit a wall.  The energy that animated your spiritual life seems to have evaporated.

I have come to call this – a little cheekily – a mid-faith crisis.

When I hit my own wall, I read because that is what I always do when I have a problem:  I read.  I read because I thought I might find in books a solution to, or at least an evasion of, the crisis – a way around, or at least a way of avoiding, the wall. Books did not, on their own, “solve” my mid-faith crisis, but they certainly provided companionship, solace, and inspiration along the way. (In fact, they helped me understand that a mid-faith crisis is not something to be solved, but to be lived into.)

Jane Smiley’s novel Horse Heaven was published in 2000, about three years after I left the Judaism in which I had grown up and was baptized in the Anglican church. Smiley is quite possibly my favorite living American novelist—I read her novella “The Age of Grief ” at least once annually—and I snatched up Horse Heaven as soon as it hit the stands. It’s a sprawling comic novel about horse racing, a subculture I have little interest in, and it is not my favorite of the Smiley oeuvre: I prefer her quiet, finely grained family stories—Ordinary Love and Good Will, Barn Blind, At Paradise Gate. But one small section of Horse Heaven spoke to me with a force I had mostly felt only when reading liturgy or poetry or epitaphs.