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From the author of the critically acclaimed, award-winning bestseller Ishmael and its sequel, My Ishmael, comes a powerful novel with one of the most profound spiritual testaments of our time “A compelling ‘humantale’ that will unglue, stun, shock, and rearrange everything you’ve learned and assume about Western civilization and our future.”—Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce Father Jared Osborne has received an extraordinary assignment from his superiors: Investigate an itinerant preacher stirring up deep trouble in central Europe. His followers call him B, but his enemies say he’s something else: the Antichrist. However, the man Osborne tracks across a landscape of bars, cabarets, and seedy meeting halls is no blasphemous monster—though an earlier era would undoubtedly have rushed him to the burning stake. For B claims to be enunciating a gospel written not on any stone or parchment but in our very genes, opening up a spiritual direction for humanity that would have been unimaginable to any of the prophets or saviors of traditional religion. Pressed by his superiors for a judgement, Osborne is driven to penetrate B’s inner circle, where he soon finds himself an anguished collaborator in the dismantling of his own religious foundations.
More than a masterful novel of adventure and suspense, The Story of B is a rich source of compelling ideas from an author who challenges us to rethink our most cherished beliefs.
Explore Daniel Quinn’s spiritual Ishmael trilogy: ISHMAEL • MY ISHMAEL • THE STORY OF B
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Story of B
Friday, May 10
Today I ducked into a drugstore and bought a notebook—this notebook right here that I’m writing in. Clearly a momentous event.
I’ve never kept (or been tempted to keep) a diary of any kind, and I’m not even sure I’m going to keep this one, but I thought I’d better try. I find it’s a peculiar business, because, though I’m supposedly only writing for myself, I feel impelled to explain who I am and what I’m doing here. It makes me suspect that all diarists are in fact writing not for themselves but for posterity.
I wonder if there’s a child anywhere who hasn’t, at some stage of awakening consciousness, incorporated into his/her address “The World” and “The Universe.” Having already done that (almost three decades ago), I begin this diary by writing:
I am Jared Osborne, a priest, assistant pastor, parish of St. Edward’s, professed of the Order of St. Lawrence, Roman Catholic Church. And having written that, I feel obliged to add: not a very good priest. (Wow, this diary business is hot stuff! These are words I’ve never dared to whisper, even to myself!) Without examining the logic of this too closely, I can say it’s precisely because I’m “not a very good priest” that I feel the need to start this diary at this point in my life.
This is excellent. This is exactly where I have to begin. Before I go on to anything else, I have to put it down right here in black-and-white who I am and how I got here, though thank God I don’t have to go back as far as my childhood or anything like that. I just have to go back far enough to figure out how I came to be involved in one of the strangest quests of modern times.
Recruiting Poster: Why I’m a Laurentian
By long tradition, we Laurentians have been defined in terms of our difference from the Jesuits. Some historians say we’re not as bad, some say we’re worse, and some say the only difference between us is that they have a better instinct for public relations. Both were founded at roughly the same time to combat the Reformation, and when that battle was lost (or at least over), both redefined themselves as elitist educators. And where do little Jesuits and Laurentians come from? Jesuit recruits come from Jesuit schools, and Laurentian recruits come from Laurentian schools.
I came to the Laurentians from St. Jerome’s University, the intellectual hearth of the order in the United States. This may explain why I became a Laurentian, but of course it doesn’t explain why I became a priest. All I can say on that point right now is that the reasons I gave when I was in my early twenties no longer seem very persuasive to me.
The important thing to note here is that I was considered a real comer when I was an undergraduate. I was expected to be another jewel in the crown—but by the time postdoctoral studies rolled around, I’d been spotted as a rhinestone—plenty of flash but pure paste. I was a big disappointment to everybody, most of all to me, of course. My superiors were as nice about it as they could be. I was never going to be invited to join the faculty at St. Jerome’s or any other of the order’s universities, but they did offer to find a place for me at one of their prep schools. Or if I didn’t care to be humiliated quite that much, I could be loaned out to the diocese for work in the parochial trenches. I chose the latter, which is how I ended up at St. Ed’s.
I say I’m not a very good priest. I suppose this is a bit like a cart horse saying it’s not a very good horse, because it expected to be raced but couldn’t make the grade. The blunt truth is that you don’t have to be a very good priest to make the grade at the parish level. This observation is not as cynical as it sounds—the priest is only a mediator of grace, not a source of grace, after all. Sure, you’ve got to be even-tempered and patient and tolerant of human shortcomings (which says a lot), but nobody expects to you be a St. Paul or a St. Francis, and a sacrament that comes to you from the hands of an utter swine is every bit as efficacious as one that comes to you from the hands of a paragon. The way things are going nowadays, you’ll be considered a bloody treasure if you don’t turn out to be a child molester or a public drunk.
Enter Fr. Lulfre
Six days ago I got a nice little note from the dean’s secretary asking if I would be so kind as to present myself next Wednesday (day before yesterday) at the office of Fr. Bernard Lulfre at three o’clock in the afternoon. Well, now, that was interesting.
Dear Diary, I can tell right off the bat that you don’t know who this Bernard Lulfre is, so I’ll have to enlighten you. In a word, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was the Jesuits’ superstar, and Bernard Lulfre is ours. Teilhard de Chardin was a geologist and a paleontologist, and Bernard Lulfre is an archaeologist and a psychiatrist. The difference, typically, is that Teilhard de Chardin is world famous, while Bernard Lulfre is known to about ten people (with names like Karl Popper, Marshall McLuhan, Roland Barthes, Noam Chomsky, and Jacques Derrida). Never mind. To those who breathe the rarefied air of the scholarly Alps, Bernard Lulfre is a heavyweight.
While an undergraduate at St. Jerome’s, I wrote a paper proposing that, although belief in an afterlife may have given rise to the practice of burying the dead with their possessions, it’s just as plausible to suppose that the practice of burying the dead with their possessions gave rise to a belief in an afterlife. The course instructor passed it on to Bernard Lulfre, thinking it might be publishable in one of the journals he was associated with. Of course it wasn’t, but it brought me to the great man’s attention, and for a season I was shown round as a promising youngster at faculty teas. When I entered the novitiate a year later, it was imagined by some that I was a sort of protégé, a misconception I foolishly did not discourage. Fr. Lulfre may have followed my progress in the years that followed, but if so, he did it at a very great distance, and when my academic career began to falter, his remoteness began to be interpreted (with equal imaginativeness) as a withdrawal.
In the five years since my ordination, until that nice invitation arrived from the dean’s office, I hadn’t heard from him once (and hadn’t expected to). Naturally I was curious, but I wasn’t exactly holding my breath. He wasn’t going to offer to send me to the ball in a coach-and-four. Probably he was going to ask for a small favor of some kind. Maybe some folks at St. Jerome’s wanted to know something about somebody at St. Ed’s, and they said, “Why don’t we have Fr. Lulfre contact that young Fr. Osborne who works there?” No one would hesitate to ask me to do a bit of spying for the order if spying was needed. We’ve had our own private espionage network for centuries and think of it as being not one whit less honorable than that of MI 16 or the CIA. (We’re quite proud of our intrigues—in a quiet way, of course. During the last decades of Elizabeth’s reign, for example, our “English College” at Rheims infiltrated scores of priest spies into Britain to keep the spirit of insurrection alive among English Catholics. Our greatest coup was achieved in 1773, when Pope Clement XIV was feeling some scruples about destroying his old friends the Jesuits; it was one of our own who showed him how to reason with his tender conscience and get the job done.) The order is our homeland, after all, and it would be taken for granted that, even in exile, I would never allow some paltry diocesan or parochial concern to supersede my loyalty to it. On the other hand, if it was something as simple as this, then a phone call would have been sufficient. The more I pondered the problem, the more intrigued I became.
At Fr. Lulfre’s office
Nothing had changed at Fr. Lulfre’s office since I’d last visited it some ten years before: It was in the same corner of the same floor of the same building. Fr. Lulfre hadn’t changed either: Still six and a half feet tall, as broad as a door, with a massive, rough-hewn head that might belong to a stevedore or a trucker. Men like him somehow don’t change much till they reach an age like seventy or eighty, when they fall apart overnight and are whisked away.
I’ve been around enough brilliant men to know that they’re seldom brilliant in real time, and Fr. Lulfre is no exception. He greeted me with unconvincing heartiness, made some awkward small talk, and seemed ready to beat around the bush for hours. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the mood to collaborate with him on that, and after five minutes a dreadful silence overtook us.
With the distinct air of someone biting the bullet, he said: “I want you to know, Jared, that there are many men in the order who know you’re capable of doing more than you’ve been asked to do.”
Well, shucks, I wanted to say, but didn’t. I murmured something or other to the effect that I was gratified to hear this, but I doubt if I managed to keep every trace of irony out of my voice.
Fr. Lulfre sighed, evidently realizing that he still had some biting to do on this bullet. Deciding to give him a break, I told him, “If you’ve got a different assignment for me, Father, you certainly don’t have to be shy about proposing it. You have a ready listener here.”
“Thank you, Jared, I appreciate that,” he said—but still seemed reluctant to go on. At last he said, rather stiffly, as if he didn’t expect to be believed, “You will remember the special mandate of our order.”
For a moment I just stared at him blankly. Then of course I did remember it.
Daniel Quinn grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and studied at St. Louis University, the University of Vienna, and Loyola University of Chicago. He worked in Chicago-area publishing for twenty years before beginning work on the book for which he is best known, Ishmael. In 1991, this book was chosen from among some 2,500 international entrants in the Turner Tomorrow competition to win the half-million dollar prize for a novel offering “creative and positive solutions to global problems.” It has subsequently sold more than a million copies in English, is available in some thirty languages, and has been used in high schools and colleges worldwide in courses as varied as philosophy, geography, ecology, archaeology, history, biology, zoology, anthropology, political science, economics, and sociology. Subsequent works include Providence, The Story of B, My Ishmael: A Sequel, Beyond Civilization, After Dachau, The Holy, At Woomeroo, The Invisibility of Success, and The Teachings. Daniel Quinn died in 2018.