Given that self-help books often read as unintentional self-parodies, the parodist faces a challenge: how does one mock a form that does such a wonderful job of mocking itself? Brother Ty, God Is My Broker's (fictional) narrator and co-author (with the non-fictional Christopher Buckley and John Tierney), usually rises to the challenge in this wry parable of faith and capitalism.
Ty, a former Wall Street trader who has left the market for the monastery, guides us through a story alternately plausible and satiric, comically observing the conflict between spiritual and financial needs. Lacking customers for its wine and facing bankruptcy, the Monastery of Cana seeks guidance not in the Bible but in the works of self-help guru Deepak Chopra. Inspired by Creating Affluence's advice that wealth will come "from wherever it is at the moment," the Abbot decides to improve marketing instead of improving the wine; he brings in consultants, a TV-commercial director, and begins developing a theme park.
As business ventures consume the monks' time, the monastery's mission gets lost in the process. The monks begin studying works like Steven Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Anthony Robbins' Awaken the Giant Within, split into factions -- the Coveyans and the Robbinites. But, the many complications that ensue provide ample opportunities for poking fun at organized religion, business practices, and other aspects of modern society. Indeed, the book's imagining of voicemail at the "Vatican Office of Internal Investigations" is sharp satire indeed: it begins, "To report a new heresy, digit one. To report the recurrence of an old heresy, digit two" and concludes with "To report the unauthorized ordination of a woman, immediately press digit zero -- an inquisitor will be with you shortly. For all other matters, please stay on the line. Your call is important to His Eminence, the Cardinal"
The automated phone message recalls the wit of the essays in Buckley's Wry Martinis (1997), and God Is My Broker could use more moments like this one. While I found myself wishing that its satire would go further, the book is enjoyable, engaging, and economically written. And, unlike much of the genre it mocks, this "advice book" does conclude with some sound advice: "The only way to get rich from a get-rich book is to write one."
Phil Nel is an adjunct professor of English at the College of Charleston.