As this divine ordeal drags on, the Lord offers what passes for profundity ... Alas, the survivors’ prayers go unanswered, as did mine for better dialogue ... Such soggy inspirational literature makes me seasick. Everything about The Stranger in the Lifeboat is sketched in cartoon colors — from its vacuous theology and maudlin tragedies to its class warfare theme. Instead of character development, TV news reports interrupt the story to provide potted biographies of the lost souls. And the Lord’s statements supply all the holy insight of a sympathy card from your insurance agent ... Panning a book like this may feel like harpooning a minnow, but I think treacly metaphysical fiction does us a cultural disservice. To borrow a word, it narcotizes people in search of real spiritual wisdom. That’s a shame because every religious tradition and many thoughtful writers of faith provide profound guidance through dark times of despair and grief. Cotton candy such as The Stranger in the Lifeboat is a saccharine substitute that spoils the appetite for sacred food.
News reports chronicling the saga of the Grand Idea’s participants are interspersed among the chapters, adding a sense of realism to an ethereal narrative resounding with themes of loss, despair, and redemption. Albom’s many fans will welcome this return to his signature fiction, which is sure to garner new admirers, too.