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Book Review: The Essence of Nathan Biddle by J. William Lewis

Thursday, June 3, 2021


Happy Thursday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm sharing a fantastic literary novel written by an Alabamian: The Essence of Nathan Biddle by J. William Lewis.  While reading about the writer, I noticed that he lives in Shoal Creek, Alabama, a community that is directly across the street from mine.  The tornado that hit our neighborhood on March 25th also hit his, and I hope that his home did not sustain any damage.  Small world, isn't it!  

According to Goodreads:

The Essence of Nathan Biddle is a timeless coming-of-age tale that, as novelist David Armstrong observed, “is like discovering The Catcher in the Rye all over again.” Protagonist Kit Biddle is a rising prep school senior who finds himself tangled in a web of spiritual quandaries and intellectual absurdities. Kit’s angst is compounded by a unique psychological burden he is forced to carry: his intelligent but unstable Uncle Nat has committed an unspeakable act on what, according to the Uncle’s deranged account, were direct orders from God.

The tragedy haunting his family follows Kit like a dark and foreboding cloud, exacerbating his already compulsive struggle with existential questions about the meaning of his life. When the brilliant, perhaps phantasmic, Anna dismisses him, Kit quickly spirals into despair and self-destruction. But when his irrational decision to steal a maintenance truck and speed aimlessly down the highway ends in a horrific accident and months of both physical and emotional convalescence, Kit is forced to examine his perceptions of his life and his version of reality.

In this exquisite bildungsroman, calamity leads to fresh perspectives and new perceptions: it focuses Kit’s mind and forces him to confront the issues that plague him. Readers will empathize—and celebrate—as the darkness lifts and Kit comes to terms with the necessity of engagement with life’s pain, pleasure . . . and absurdity.

​An intelligent, clever, and captivating tale, The Essence of Nathan Biddle soars in the spaces that exist between despair and hope, darkness and light, love and loss. Beautifully written, profoundly moving, and resplendent with characters destined to remain with you long after the last page is turned, The Essence of Nathan Biddle is unforgettable. 

My Review:

I absolutely love this book.  I will start with Kit: He is a character I will never forget.  Told from his point of view, I was completely mesmerized with his story from start to finish.  Adolescence is difficult at best, excruciating at worst.  Unfortunately for Kit, he has a trifecta of encumbrances impeding his development: a tragic family history; his break-up with the immaculate Anna; and a sensitive intellect that just won't quit.  He strives to find meaning via his philosophical readings and poetry writing but becomes jaded as history's great thinkers are a huge disappointment to him.

J. William Lewis's method for telling Kit's story is very Southern in style.  It does have a Southern gothic edge to it, and I was reminded of Flannery O'Connor's stories as this novel is definitely character-driven with very well-drawn characters.  The mood and atmosphere remind me of other Southern classics, especially the clash between lightness and darkness.  Although Kit doesn't always trust his perceptions of reality, I appreciate his detailed observations as well as his questionable anamneses during his recovery.  Kit sometimes exhausted me because he's a runner, and he runs quite a bit around South Alabama in the heat: But that's the only characteristic Kit shares with another South Alabama literary giant, Winston Groom's Forrest Gump.  There are literary allusions galore in this book, so my inner nerd was very happy.  I found so many little literary (and maths!) gems sparkling throughout the story.

This is one of the best books I've read in years, and I truly believe it will become a Southern classic.  I was saddened when I finished the book because I would love to read about Kit's next chapter.  I plan to order a hardcopy of the book for our home library, and I'm also ordering a copy for our oldest daughter's library, too.

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Disclosure:  I received an advanced reader's copy of The Essence of Nathan Biddle from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Until next time...

Ricki Jill


  1. I would love to read this book! Thanks for the good review my friend. Enjoy your day!

  2. What a small world! I love reading books from local authors and when they're really good it's an added treat!

  3. With such a rave review, this is a must read, especially if the author is from Alabama!

  4. Just ordered from my local book store ! thank you . I have been enjoying all things Ricki Jill this morning, starting with the daily devo . Thank you for all you do ! Sara xo

  5. Great book review Ricki. How fun the book is an Alabama author. I need to catch up on reading or just listen to audio books. Have a lovely weekend.

  6. I added this to my fall TBR, I'm a fan of southern fiction for sure! Thank you for being on this tour! Sara @ TLC Book Tours

  7. Thanks for the glowing book review, Ricki Jill! It sounds like a book that I would love. Maybe you’ll get to meet the author one day, since he lives so close??

  8. It is a small world. Hope everyone is safe. I was not a huge fan. Part I was a struggle for me.


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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