How's this for mysterious ways? Three weeks ago, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor's Disappearance, the second novel by Brooklyn writer Benjamin Anastas. The book describes the vanishing of Thomas Mosher, the young pastor of a church in W****, Mass., the void created by his absence, and the community's reaction to this close manifestation of Deus absconditus (the Christian term, dating from medieval times, for God's unfortunate tendency to hide himself). A satire on suburban spirituality (or lack thereof), it offers no explanations for Mosher's disappearance and ends with the image of a parishioner standing in the middle of Times Square, hoping to catch a glimpse of the right reverend, but seeing only blank faces and the "saccharine glow" of neon lights.
The "faithful narrative" leaves little room for miracles, but when real-life Monsignor Lamont R. Hamilton (of Eastchester, N.Y.) took a powder last Thursday, the book did seem to take on a life of its own. First, there was the superficial coincidence of both ministers happening to be black, and while certain details didn't line up—Thomas Mosher drove a Ford Probe; Hamilton, a black Acura; Mosher was a Congregational minister; Hamilton, Catholic—there appeared to be more similarities than differences: Both reverends departed in a hurry, for instance, with Hamilton forgetting his heart medication and Mosher leaving his laptop behind. And both left similar questions in their wake."Where had Thomas gone?" Anastas writes. "Was he in trouble? Or in pain? How could he just disappear? What did his disappearance mean?" "There are many questions and few answers," the associate pastor at Hamilton's church explained. "It's needless to say that we are worried, anxious, frustrated, and concerned."
Parishioners of both churches described their pastors in similar terms (the words "well-liked" figured prominently in both accounts), and no foul play was suspected in either case. The reverends had simply, inexplicably, disappeared. But Anastas and the Lord had different endings in mind—Hamilton was discovered the other day in Puerto Rico, where he'd flown following a secret biopsy of a stomach tumor.
What did the (famously godless) literary world make of this story, which strains the limits of chance without quite breaking them? Either that chance is stranger than they thought, or that God, in his infinite wisdom, chose to reveal his presence through an unlikely confluence of disappearances-by-proxy. Of course, enterprising journalists may want to ask Hamilton if he's been happening across inspiration in the most unexpected places—like, say, his local Barnes & Noble?