Publisher’s Weekly named Fishers of Men by Adam Elenbaas as one of top 100 books of 2010. PW whittled the list from over 7,000 books they reviewed this year. In praising the book, included in the religion section of the list, PW wrote:
“Elenbaas writes with bravery, candor, and humility about mistakes, redemption, and growing up, sounding familiar and universal themes of families and striving and shortsightedness woven into a narrative about an exotic and unfamiliar quest.”
See the list on PublishersWeekly.com, and watch our episode of Tarcher Talks with author Adam Elenbaas.
Issue: November 15, 2010
Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest
by Adam Elenbaas
Aug 2010. 288 p. Tarcher, hardcover, $23.95. (9781585427918). 299.8.
Ayahuasca is a highly psychotropic brew traditionally used for divinatory and healing practices in South America. It’s at the heart of this memoir charting the reconciliation of Elenbaas’ wounded religious past as a minister’s troubled son with his current holistic, nonsectarian spirituality. With a nod to angst-filled coming-of-age accounts like Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries (1978) and addiction/recovery fiction like Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son (1992), Elenbaas takes readers on a clear-eyed tour of childhood memories and hallucinatory ayahuasca ceremonies, drawing clear lines between early traumas and his later spiritual grappling. Though the themes he wrangles with aren’t new (an itinerant childhood, his father’s depression and infidelity, the glamor of fundamentalist Christianity), the candor with which he expresses his confusion in attempting to develop a coherent spiritual narrative for his life is refreshing. To call this a gospel, as Elenbaas does in the title, might sound grandiose at first. But being a firsthand evangelical account of the wonders of spiritual exploration and discovery via ayahuasca makes it one, of a sort, and an engrossing one, at that.
Adam Elenbaas starts pretty much at Nowhere in his memoir ‘Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest’ (Tarcher / Penguin ; July 22, 2010 ; $24.95). It’s a complicated, twisty little memoir that manages to pack a wallop as Elenbaas explores his own life, which itself is an exploration. This sort of fractal vision is important to ‘Fishers of Men.’ You start your life, after all, inside. Then as you grow up, you go further inward.
From the get-go, there’s a raw feeling to this story of fathers, sons and belief. Not just in the scenario (Adam hovering outside the bathroom door as his father pukes his way through withdrawal from regular drugs in preparation for an ayahuasca ceremony), but in the language as well. Elenbaas writes prose that is snipped, clipped and compressed. But there’s an ache behind all of this convoluted revelation, one that we can all readily identify with.
The story is complicated and so is the exposition. Adam is the son of a Methodist minister. It may be a “like father, like son” scenario, but that only means that everyone is troubled. Adam certainly does not begin by following in his father’s path. Instead, he ends up in a search for sensation; sex, drugs, it does not matter because you cannot fill a void with a void. The first stage of his youth ends badly, but there’s a glimmer of hope that leads him to the world of the ayahuasca vision quest.
Elenbaas knows how to pull apart his timeline and put it back together in an order than makes for compelling reading. He’s a passionate write and even his religious beliefs come through as raw and authentic. He’s an unsparing chronicler of his own and others’ faults. But this only serves to make his revelations more powerful to the reader. As a writer, he knows that he has to create characters, plot, to do more than reveal. He has to find a story in his life and a way to tell that story. He manages to do so and the balancing act of avoiding pathos and self-pity.
‘Fishers of Men’ is also a fascinating journey into the heart of belief, that hard-wired attraction to the otherworldly. Raised as a Christian and inclined to believe thus, Elenbaas finds himself thrust into a very different vision of the otherworld. Readers explore and experience the ayahuasca vision quest with the writer. The synthesis that Elenbaas achieves is gritty and powerful, since he rounds us back and grounds us in characters.
Elenbaas is one of the folks behind Reality Sandwich, along with Daniel Pinchbeck. Reality Sandwich bills itself as “a web magazine for this time of intense transformation,” and this book keeps with those themes, but plays them out in a somewhat grittier fashion. Yes, there is a touch of evangelism about this work, but it’s subsumed in the more immediate story of personal transformation. ‘Fishers of Men’ is about the revelation of character, not a revelation of belief.
What’s interesting here is not just the ayahuasca vision, or the synthesis that Elenbaas achieves. What’s really gripping here, is that with a character-driven story, the author manages to offer an informed vision of vision. It’s that fractal effect. And one needs must remember Flannery O’Connor’s follow-through.
“If you’ve got a good car, then you do not need to be redeemed.”
Adam Elenbaas sits down with Tarcher Editor-in-Chief Mitch Horowitz to discuss his new book, Fishers of Men. Elenbaas delves into the themes at the heart of his memoir: family and his coming of age. He also details the power of the shamanic ceremonies in South America where he consumed ayahuasca, a psychedelic jungle vine revered for its mind-expanding spiritual properties.
Finish this episode in the screening room on Penguin.com.
In the second segment, Elenbaas discusses the spiritual powers of ayahuasca with Jonathan Talat Phillips, community director for the fast-growing community website, Evolver.net and creator of “The Ayahuasca Monologues: Tales of the Spirit Vine”.
Tarcher will publish a new book from counterculture icon Daniel Pinchbeck on October 14, 2010. The first book since his 2006 New York Times bestseller 2012, NOTES FROM THE EDGE TIMES collects his most compelling writings on sex, money, beliefs, culture, & the looming question of 2012. Check out the release announcement here.
Read Daniel Pinchbeck’s blog on RealitySandwich.com and stay tuned to the Tarcher Books Video page for our upcoming Tarcher Talks episode with Fishers of Men author Adam Elenbaas and Jonathan Talat Phillips, writer and community director at RealitySandwich.com, as they discuss ayahuasca and holistic health.
Order Notes from the Edge Times:
Adam Elenbaas. Tarcher/Penguin, $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-58542-791-8
Author Elenbaas, a New York writer and therapist who grew up Minnesota-nice until he rebelled into a sex-and-drugs period, writes of his discovery of the curative and transformative power of the psychedelic experience. Elenbaas participated in ayahuasca healing in Peru; ayahuasca is a jungle vine brewed to make a highly purgative, hallucinogenic drink. The healing experiences allow Elenbaas to come to terms with himself and a family history of men who can’t figure out what to do with themselves. At the heart of the book is the relationship between Elenbaas and his father, a well-intentioned, progressive Midwestern Methodist minister who cares more for his job than for his family. The tension in their relationship is heartbreakingly poignant, and the book’s best writing comes when Elenbaas trains an observer’s eye on his family and his experiences. The conclusions he draws are less than profound, but the journey he writes about should not be missed. Less about drugs and more about family, this is a book for fathers and their sons; it beats the swagger of war stories. (Aug.)