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The Book of Mary: Diary of An Addict – Book Review

July 26, 2012

By An Addict Named Mary

Edited by Anthony Zurlo

A Book Review

I recently ran across an eBook publisher called Cruciform Press.  This is how they describe their vision:

“Cruciform Press was created in answer to a single question:

What would a book-publishing company for gospel-centered Christians look like if it began with the realities of 21st century technology?

Our answer?

It would focus on Content, Simplicity, Reliability, Trust, Convenience, Voice, and Community.”

I’ve found their books to be excellent, quick reads that challenge me on many levels, including my ideas about the lost and their lifestyles and how to reach them with the Gospel (plus, they’re inexpensive, $3 or $4 each, which is the icing on the cake because it appeals to my tightwad tendencies).  The first of these books that caught my attention was The Book of Mary: Diary of An Addict, edited by Anthony Zurlo.   This book seemed to be a huge deviation from your typical, ivory tower, theological treatise, which is exactly what I was looking for when it caught my eye.  When I saw the title, my initial reaction was that this was going to be a book about a drug addict or alcoholic who detailed her struggles and ultimate recovery from addiction.  What I discovered when reading the excerpt on the web site was that this was a very different book than anything I had ever read.  As soon as I realized this book was an actual diary purchased as part of a box of odds & ends at an estate sale, and that there wasn’t the expected ending, I decided that this was something that I needed to read.

The diary was written over a period of 6 years, by a woman named Marry who lived in the northeastern U.S. (New York/New Jersey?)  The entries in the diary are unedited except for the removal of explicit descriptions of sexual encounters with the various men that used her, and the removal of extreme language.  Here is what the editor states on page 6:

  • Names and initials in the journal have been changed, except for Mary’s first name.
  • Profanity and vulgarity have been replaced with ____, although some rough language remains.
  • Accounts of sexual encounters have been omitted, with the omissions noted. 

Book Summary

Mary is a pitifully sad, unmarried, 30 year old mother who lives in a large northeastern city with the father of her child and his dysfunctional parents.  She is addicted to multiple drugs, including meth, cocaine & heroin.  From the very first entry the reader sees that Mary is miserable and searching for anything in this world that will bring her temporal happiness.  She tries to reconnect with her extended family, drug detox, multiple sexual encounters, education, honest employment and even multiple religious philosophies.  In the end, Mary always turns back to the escape that drug addiction provides for her, all the while blaming everyone and everything in her life for her miserable existence.  Along with the drug addiction, Mary resorts to all the detrimental behavior one would expect to finance her escapism, with all of the expected consequences.  There is no Hollywood/fairy-tale happy ending with Richard Gere arriving in a limousine to take her off to a life of love, luxury and respectability.   The diary ends with a hopeless, undated entry, sometime after the spring of 1993.  The editor provides a conclusion by telling what happened to Mary, but I’ll let you read the book to learn her fate.

The Good News

Anthony Zurlo interrupts Mary’s entries at three different points in the diary to provide comment.  When I say interrupt, I’m not using the term negatively.  On the contrary, these interruptions are not only pertinent, they are also a welcome relief from the blunt reality of Mary’s hopeless existence.  The first editorial section is titled The Truth We Don’t Want to Hear, and is an excellent analysis of the mindset of the addict.  Instead of the expected psychobabble explanation that I would expect from a book like this (abusive childhood, addicted parents, broken home, ADHD, poor self esteem, and my personal favorite: bipolar, etc., etc., ad nauseum), the editor turns the table on the reader and makes the claim that Mary’s life isn’t a sad, deviant lifestyle, but actually is rather normal.    The immediate reaction to this claim is one of skepticism, but Anthony Zurlo links the lifestyle of the drug addict to the “normal” lifestyle in an effectively disturbing way.  His goal isn’t to make the reader feel really good that he’s not like that sad, drug addict named Mary.  His goal is to shock the reader into an introspective mode before reading the rest of the diary.  He accomplishes this very effectively and then abruptly goes back to the diary, leaving the reader hanging with no hope and no answers; only questions.

The second editorial section is titled Why the World Is Like It Is.  This is another opportunity for the author to attempt to integrate worldly philosophies into Biblical Christianity, but again Anthony Zurlo chooses the path less taken.  Instead, he again points the mirror right back at the reader and makes sure that the reader understands that Mary’s hopelessness as evidenced by her entries, is also the reader’s hopelessness.  He then effectively illustrates our futility with a fictional story and lays the blame for all of the corruption in the world right at the feet of the reader.  It’s not someone else’s fault, it’s not someone else who is responsible, it’s you, reader!  The reader is left hanging again as the diary entries resume.

Finally, in the last editorial section titled The Hope Set Before Us, Mr. Zurlo offers us true hope.  Not hope in therapy, a loving family, a good education, a good job or even a good church.  Mr. Zurlo provides real hope, a hope that is powerful, a hope that is eternal, a hope that is sure, a hope that brings about real change.  Yes, I’m talking about the Gospel, but not the easy-believism or mental assent that pervades the majority of what passes for evangelicalism today.  There is no moralism, no behavior modification and no talk about building up one’s self esteem because, after all, we’re all made in the image of God and God doesn’t make any junk.  He doesn’t try to convince us that if we could just have one or two small successes in our life, everything’s going to work out OK because we’ll have more confidence, look better and fit in.  Thankfully, Anthony Zurlo is faithful to communicate the true Gospel, the Gospel that is solely dependent on God’s work, on God’s grace and on God’s sovereignty.  This isn’t an anemic Gospel that may or may not result in a changed life, or one that leaves out the critical element of repentance.  This isn’t a Gospel that is dependent on the believer for positive results.  Anthony doesn’t remember Ephesians 2: 8-9 but forget verse 10.  He doesn’t forget the rock solid promise of Philipians 1:6.  No, praise the Lord, this is the true Gospel, the ever powerful Gospel, the work that is begun by God and is kept by God and is finished by God.  Mr. Zurlo is faithful to offer a real hope, an eternal hope, a powerful hope, to the praise and glory of the risen King!

Conclusion

The Book of Mary: Diary of An Addict isn’t a light read, even though it’s a quick read.  If you’re looking for a book about theology or better behavior or how to keep your kid involved in the right activities so he doesn’t become like Mary, then this book isn’t the right choice.  If you’re looking for gospel-centered hope, then don’t delay and start reading now.

From → Book Reviews, Culture

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