Larry and the Meaning of Life by Janet Tashjian

larryI really loved The Gospel According to Larry and Vote for Larry, both inspiring stories about Josh, a kid with an unbelievable zest for changing the world, pacifism, activism, environmentalism, and anti-consumerism.  They’re both pretty cool books with a message and a good story.  This latest book definitely has a cool story and a good message, but it just wasn’t as good as the first two and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Basically Josh is in a funk and decides to follow a guru named Gus he met at Walden Pond. By the way, I enjoyed the bits about Walden, Thoreau, and Gandhi. Also, I love the structure of the book-first, that the story was given to the author Janet by this real person, Josh, and second that there are many many conversational footnotes. Josh is smart and funny, so he is a great character. Excuse me, real person. Anyway, Josh follows this guy Gus, but right from the start things seem kind of weird and fishy. His ex girlfriend Janine is there, his nemesis betagold is there, a little digging reveals that Gus has a fraud history and a drinking problem, and might just be a total nutjob.  I found myself not believe any of it when the dog got killed. And beheaded. It was just too dreadful. I thought, “if this really happened in this book then this book sucks and the writing is really weird compared to the first two. But if it didn’t happen, what’s the big scam?”  Then the kidney transplant. I just didn’t believe Josh donated his kidney.  I felt that something was going on, and there was, but it really was nothing I had imagined at all. So in the end the reader finds herself feeling a bit tricked, a bit used, and a bit put out. That said, I can’t stop thinking about Gandhi’s philosophy that Josh finally embraces Gandhi–“My message is my life.”  That’s a pretty powerful thing to think about. If your life is your message, what message are you sending people? Is it the message you want?  So, overall the book falls short for me, but I still like it that Tashjian is writing about meaningful and thoughtful relevant things in a funny and clever way.

Oh, and one other thing. Gus makes his disciples paint paint-by-numbers kits. The second he did that I thought, “Oh, and then after everyone has worked hours and hours on these he will burn them up because it will have been about the process. Just like on that Northern Exposure episode where Holling does that.” And what do you know? That’s exactly what happened.  So, a rip off or a tip of the hat to that fine show?

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