Review by: KEN KORCZAK
This book might be compared to On the Road if Jack Kerouac had been a woman and talented. Kerouac was merely a social malcontent and a drunk. I tend to agree with Truman Capote’s conclusion on Kerouac’s work: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
CHARLENE JONES, however, turns in a story about an epic road trip that traverses an international path. That path does double duty as both a physical journey around the planet and an esoteric trek into the deeper levels of the soul.
MY IMPOSSIBLE LIFE is not typing. It’s writing.
I would describe Jones’ writing style as organic. Other good words might be earthy, sensual and visceral. At the same time, her result is vivid and immediate with everything laid right out on the surface. Each page will sting the reader with the author’s palpable sense of psychic pain. It’s easy for us to grasp – at least intellectually — what’s generating her agony. At the tender young age of 16, she was abducted and brutally raped and tortured by two escaped convicts.
If that’s not bad enough, Charlene Jones came to this nightmarish experience with a psyche that was already damaged goods. From the time she was a little girl, she had been battered by dysfunctional behavior in her family which inflicted wounds upon her that would be more than enough to screw up any person for life.
I don’t want to give any more away, except to say this book is about so much more than a person desperately seeking an escape hatch from the misery of her own existence. Like Odysseus blown off course and lost in what seems to be a relentlessly weird and hostile universe, Jones is sailing the ship of her life from destination to destination, only to discover that no matter how much she travels in the physical world, she brings her essential self with her.
Understandably, Jones was ensnared by a powerful guru. This was the legendary Namgyal Rinpoche, a Canadian man born as Leslie George Dawson in Toronto. He was of Irish and Scottish descent but remarkably ascended to an extremely lofty status of Tibetan Buddhist empowerment. He was given his Tibetan name and designation by none other than the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. Dawson taught in the Vajrayana tradition.
The insights Jones offers regarding her years of following Dawson around the globe to partake in his meditation, teaching and healing ministrations should be considered a masterclass in the benefits and deeply dangerous pitfalls of giving over one’s spiritual development to any guru. I think readers will be profoundly impressed by the measured way Jones sums up the lessons learned from her association with Dawson. She fulfills her duty to expose the man where he was a charlatan, a fraud and demented – but also rightfully acknowledges that this can’t be the full story of a person who was, in many ways, authentic and remarkable.
The courage of Jones to be unflinching yet fair about the legacy of Leslie George Dawson is a significant illustration of the expanded understanding she eventually achieved about the complex nature of the human condition. Reading this book means we get to benefit from that same hard-won wisdom.
There are so many extraordinary elements to this wonderful memoir that I could pick just one and write my entire review on that. I’ll settle for a couple of highlights and encourage the reader to get this book and discover all it has to offer for yourself.
One primary takeaway for me is the literary skill Jones leverages to craft a nonlinear timeline and weave it together for a story that takes place over multiple years – yet remains a clear and coherent narrative that flows amazingly well from first page to last. This tale has an engaging back-and-forth rhythm that carries us along as if riding in Elton John’s blue canoe — “dazzling, dancing, half enchanted.”
In sharing her traumatic experience with brutal honesty, Jones provides us all with better answers to age-old questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Mainstream religion offers pablum, such as, “the Lord works in mysterious ways,” or, “evil is real, and/or the devil is at work inflicting suffering on God’s children.”
Jones’ conclusion about what happened to her and how she found the strength to continue on and eventually extract serenity out of the rotten deal she was handed by the universe is not just inspirational – it’s practical. This book has the potential to help uncounted people who are suffering and desperately searching for that elusive get-out-of hell-free card. My Impossible Life is proof that an escape hatch exists.
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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