“This book is just so raw and real it is difficult to put down. Once I began, I was sorry I had a job that prevented me from reading continuously.”

So says political scientist Hunter Baker, in his Amazon.com review of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming I saw that last night when I got in from Baton Rouge, where I’d been at my friend Lisa’s linens and decor shop, signing books. Lisa did me an enormous kindness  by opening her shop for me to sell books. We did a land office business, I’m tickled to tell you, because the word of mouth on Little Way is tremendous. Some people came in to buy second copies, saying they’d read it already and wanted to get it for someone else. A number of them said they’d read it in one sitting, because they couldn’t put it down. People keep e-mailing me to say the same thing.

It’s gratifying to hear and to read these things as a writer, but I know that it’s not really my prose that’s doing it. It’s the actual things that happened, and the things people said. It reads like a novel at times, but I’m telling you, I have people on tape saying these things, or recalling that they had been said. Besides, people saw a lot of this happen. They know it’s real. I let the main characters read the final draft before I turned it in, to make sure I hadn’t embellished or gotten any facts wrong.

What you read in Little Way really happened. People really did do that for each other. We can all live that way, if we want to. One of the customers tonight, a man bigger and broader-shouldered than I am, openly admitted that he cried like a baby in parts — “but it was a good cry.” By “good cry,” he meant the tears weren’t cheap, that it was good to be confronted with something so true and beautiful and human that the only genuine response was tears.

Gotta tell you, I didn’t realize I had written a book like this. I knew it was likely to have a powerful emotional effect on people, but nothing like this.

Overnight, I received this amazing, generous review from my New Orleans friend Ken Bickford. He writes, in part:

This is a book about loopholes. It is about humanity’s search for them, about the author’s search for them. It is about how some folks spend their whole lives looking for magical or scientific shortcuts around suffering and pain and alienation—and who receive in exchange for their troubles a spent life and a perfectly toned corpse.

It is a cautionary tale for those who have the very best things but who lack the community that perfects the enjoyment of those things.

But mostly it is a book about the example of Ruthie Leming, who refused to openly weep for her fate, who didn’t stare into the abyss of her unjustifiably shortened life with justifiable rage—who didn’t waste her time looking for loopholes that didn’t exist.

More:

This is also a book about the heroine’s deep Christian faith, and about the sort of grace that allows an ordinary man or woman to live the good life exactly where they are—in the valley of the shadow of death.

Heroism shows up in the oddest of places. We like to think its natural habitat is a dangerous situation such as a battlefield or a burning building. But really it’s found whenever and wherever ordinary persons confront Truth squarely and directly. In The Little Way of Ruthie Leming that sort of heroism can be found in the life of an ordinary schoolteacher from an obscure village. All it takes, really, is the acknowledgement that the loopholes aren’t worth your time—that indeed, if you ever actually found one your community would vanish, and along with it the good life you thought you’d secured.

Ruthie’s final blessing and gift was to reveal something simple and ordinary to her brother Rod. He and his wife do a most remarkable thing—they leave their cosmopolitan life in Philadelphia and move home.

But moving home isn’t for the fainthearted—you might just have to live with Truth. The author himself still struggles with that fact. So do we. It’s part of the reason so few of us today are at home in the world. “Maybe this time it’ll be different” we think. Maybe we’ll discover a Truth that is always pleasant and accommodating. Maybe this town will be perfect or that neighborhood flawless. Maybe this is the perfect job and that is the perfect house.

Maybe not.

Leprechaun’s gold and loopholes are very fine fantasies, but they have not a thing to do with the treasure of home. Indeed—they compromise it.

As the author remarks in his epiphany: “The little way of Ruthie Leming is the plainest thing in the world, something any of us could choose. And yet so few of us do.”

And my friend the writer Jerri Kelley Phillips, who has known enormous suffering in her life, writes a very kind review. Excerpt:

It is the story of forgiveness and being forgivable, the need for redemption, and the power of presence. It is a story of the killing power of guilt and the life giving power of sacrifice. It is the story of valuing the right things and the right people and understanding how valuable you are.

Yes, it is the story of a small town girl who lived a life of great impact in her own small way and a writer who questioned whether his “big life” among the intellectually aware and societal elite had any eternal impact at all. More than that, though, it is God’s story, how He takes lives down different paths, dips them in joy and wrinkles them with pain, and weaves them together. It is the story of small town folk and a big city writer stumbling through the pain of life and death and into the blessed truth that the secret to a good life is not the life path you choose to walk but the love you give—and accept—while you walk it.

I am so, so blessed by my friends. Don’t take lightly the blessing of friends in your own life.

Hey gang, I’m driving my mom to West Monroe this morning for the funeral of her Uncle Jimmy. I’ll approve comments all day via iPhone, but there won’t be new material, unless I can squeeze one in before hitting the road.