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The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington


Rating: (Recommended)


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Flowering Romance

Tim Farrington has captured the web and weave of romance, relationship, growth and change in his new novel, The Monk Downstairs. Farrington shifts easily from a woman’s voice to a man’s, as he presents realistic dialogue, and an omniscient narrator with a gentle touch. The book’s structure includes letters from the former monk, Mike Christopher, to a Brother James. Those letters disclose as much about the monk as does the dialogue and plot development. After leaving the monastery, Mike Christopher rents an apartment from Rebecca Martin, a divorced woman with a young daughter. He makes hamburgers at McDonalds, and tries to grow things in the neglected back yard of his new apartment. The book explores the ways Mike and Rebecca find each other. Here’s an excerpt from around page 100 that gives a clear description of a forming relationship:

“For weeks after the gathering at Stinson Beach, Rebecca didn’t see Michael Christopher at all. The backyard continued to develop; beds of violets and petunias appeared, along with a border of lavender and yellow slipperwort. The patch along the back fence exploded into poppies, a glorious orange sprawl. But she never saw her downstairs tenant at work. Sometimes late at night she smelled cigarette smoke, but she never managed to catch him outside. She lingered over her own evening cigarettes on the back porch, hoping he would stick his head out and say hello at least, if only to take the edge off the awkwardness. But Christopher had snapped back into his hole like a spooked gopher.
Rebecca blamed herself. She was sure that he had somehow picked up on her fantasies, even in their relatively undeveloped form. Of course he wanted no part of secular intimacy; he was still involved, however morbidly, with God. At best, he was on the rebound.
She realized that she had begun to think of him as ‘Mike.’ That was disconcerting. It had been easier when he was just some down-and-out monk to her, an object of amused compassion at best, or the guy renting the in-law apartment, ‘Christopher,’ an opaque label for a relative stranger. But ‘Mike’ was someone she could miss.”

The garden’s changes often parallel the lives of the characters, and Farrington encourages readers to relax and enjoy all the changes. If you’ve enjoyed reading Ann Tyler novels, you’re likely to enjoy reading The Monk Downstairs.

Steve Hopkins, July 31, 2002


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the September 2002 issue of Executive Times


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