Born to Cajun parents in Louisiana and growing up in Virginia tobacco country, Mark Richard was labeled a ”special child.” He was special because of hip defects that led to a string of surgeries and bouts of walking funny. And he was special because neighbors thought the term was nicer than ”slow” or ”retarded.” Read Richard’s amazing memoir House of Prayer No. 2 — read it as soon as you can, you’ll barrel through it — and you’ll know after just two pages of his effortlessly killer prose that he’s special all right. But not for the reasons folks said back in Virginia in the 1960s.
Prayer chronicles the making of a writer (the author’s first short-story collection, The Ice at the Bottom of the World, won the 1990 PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award; he writes novels, articles, and screenplays as well). And along the way, Richard shows that how he writes is inextricably linked to who he is. Narrating, mostly, through the best use of second-person urgency since Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, he describes being a disc jockey, a deckhand, a private eye, a ditchdigger. The man can tell a full story in the flick of a phrase. Here’s one: ”After graduation?you dig foundations for the world’s largest shopping mall in South Carolina.” Here’s another: ”It’s getting dark, so you decide to floor it out to a subdivision that is still being built by a crooked developer who once boasted that he had never read a book in his life.”
Underneath it all, the author (now a family man in California) searches for spiritual succor. The good news? In the end, the writer — this special writer — finds comfort in a black Pentecostal church. It’s the church of the title, the church he helped build back in Virginia where it all began. Hallelujah. A