Cover image for The monk downstairs
The monk downstairs
Farrington, Tim.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Waterville, Me. : Thorndike Press, 2003.

Physical Description:
405 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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X Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

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Rebecca Martin, a single mother with an apartment to rent, finds her life beginning to change when her new tenant turns out to be a monk on the lam after 20 years in a monastery.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This gentle, luminous love story shimmers with warmth, honesty, and self-deprecating humor. When harried single mother Rebecca Martin rents her basement apartment to a recently displaced monk, she is unprepared for their business association to develop into something more intimate. Exhausted, disillusioned, and disoriented after 20 years of monastic life, Michael Christopher tentatively reenters the lay world in the throes of a spiritual crisis. As Rebecca and Michael begin to connect, they both attempt to reconcile their new relationship with a seemingly insurmountable amount of personal baggage. In addition to her precocious six-year-old daughter, Rebecca must also contend with her spirited mother, her irresponsible ex-husband, and her increasingly demanding job. For his part, Michael, on the rebound from a long-term relationship with God, cautiously attempts to navigate unfamiliar emotional territory with sometimes hilarious, always poignant success. The finale does not disappoint, as these two intelligent and engaging characters ultimately succeed in their quests for love. Margaret Flanagan.

Publisher's Weekly Review

An independent, "unremarkable" single mother of one and an introverted ex-monk are the unlikely couple sharing the spotlight in this delightful, Anne Tyler-ish third novel from the author of 1998's well-received Blues for Hannah. Rebecca, a 38-year-old divorced San Francisco graphic artist, already has plenty on her plate a six-year-old daughter, Mary Martha, and a pot-smoking professional surfer ex-husband, Rory when she rents her downstairs apartment to Michael Christopher, a monk who has just abandoned monastery life after 20 years. She's sure she's not on the market for romance, but when Michael weeds her backyard, manages to befriend no-nonsense Mary Martha and joins Rebecca for intimate cigarette breaks ("little suicides") on the back steps, she finds herself wavering. Much trepidation predictably gives way to heated romance, though Michael wrestles with his crisis of faith via letters back and forth to the abbey brothers, and Rebecca, between bouts of bailing Rory out of jail, questions whether a romantic relationship with a man like Michael would be a true "fall from grace" for them both. Then Rebecca's mother has a stroke, and Rebecca and Michael are forced to make some rushed but pragmatic decisions. Fluent prose, seamless dialogue and a lovingly rendered Bay Area setting lift this novel above the pack. Farrington touches on many of the themes customary to the genre: forbidden fantasies, passionate first kisses, hovering family members and the tribulations of inconceivable relationships and all are mastered with ease and grace. The writer may have adopted a secondhand premise, but he delivers a charmingly written, gratifyingly hopeful tale. Agent, Linda Chester, Linda Chester and Associates. (May) Forecast: West Coast readers in particular will appreciate the quirky, spiritually inflected sweetness of Farrington's fiction. Farrington has been quietly building up a solid body of work, la Stephen McCauley, and The Monk Downstairs should bump his reputation and sales up a healthy notch. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Rebecca finally finished painting the in-law apartment on a Friday night, and on Saturday morning she rented it to some poor guy who had just left a monastery. The ad had not even appeared in the papers yet, but she had tucked a tiny Apt. for Rent sign in the front window and he just wandered by and rang the bell. His name was Michael Christopher. He was a lanky man in his early forties, a little Lincolnesque, with rounded shoulders and a long, sad face muffled by a beard in need of trimming. His hands were too big for his arms and his feet were too big for his legs. His hair was cropped close, the merest new dark stubble on a skull that had obviously been kept shorn until recently. The in-law apartment's ceiling was low and he kept his head ducked a little, whether from fear of smacking it or out of some deeper humility, Rebecca could not tell. It was her impression that he was in no danger if he wanted to straighten up, so maybe the hunch was meekness. He wore plain black trousers, rather rumpled, a shirt that had once been white but had yellowed remarkably, a black jacket with the shoulder seam split, and some white, high-top Converse sneakers from the era before athletic shoes made statements. After twenty years of living a monk's life, he could fit all his other possessions into a comically small black satchel. It looked like a doctor's bag. "Why did you leave the monastery?" she asked him. He shrugged. "I had a fight with my abbot. Among other things." "A fight?" He smiled, a little wearily. "To put it in layman's terms." Rebecca laughed. "Well, that's not very Christian, is it?" "It's sort of a long story." Christopher hesitated. "I was fed up with that place anyway, to tell you the truth. I had prayed myself into a hole." The evidence of hotheadedness, along with his frankness, was strangely reassuring. She liked his smile and his unguarded brown eyes. He had no credit history at all, of course. He didn't even have a driver's license. He had a check, some kind of severance pay - did contemplatives get severance pay? - that he hadn't been able to get cashed. He had no job as yet. As far as she could determine he had no prospects, no plan, and no résumé. But there was something about him that she liked a lot, a gloomy depth. And there was the appeal of the quixotic. He had devoted his adult life to the contemplation of God. That was his résumé. He had done what she had always intended to do with her own life and flung it into the maw of Meaning in one grand, futile gesture, and he had nothing to show for it but the clothes on his back. He'd been sleeping in the park and he hadn't eaten in three days, but he seemed unperturbed by that. It was all very New Testament. The apartment showed fast. A bathroom, a minute, stoveless kitchen with a half-fridge on one counter and a hot plate on the other, and the single real room in the place, an 8 x 15 box carpeted in a brown that had not seemed so dishearteningly the color of mud in the samples. The walls, at least, were a fresh cream. Rebecca was proud of her paint job. The room's lone window opened into the barren backyard. Christopher went right to the glass and stood looking out at the weedy waste. Rebecca could feel his melancholy. It was not much of a prospect. "I keep meaning to put in a garden back there," she said. "Or something. But there's never any time, it seems. And when there's time, I just want to recover." "I'd be glad to do some work back there myself. It's a nice space." "Ah, well-" Rebecca murmured, flustered, assuming he was angling to reduce the rent through work exchange. "If I could afford a gardener..." His look was genuinely uncomprehending; it had not occurred to him to charge her. Well, that was very New Testament too, of course. But mortgages were Old Testament, and hers was about to balloon. She had been hoping to rent the apartment to a quiet spinster with an obvious income, not a down-and-out man of God. As they stood there, she clearly heard his stomach growl. Their eyes met. His look was apologetic, with a trace of dry amusement; he had lovely warm brown eyes. Rebecca took him upstairs, gave him a bowl of Cheerios, and introduced him to her daughter. At six years old, Mary Martha was an infallible detector of bullshit. Christopher was immediately easy with the child in an unflamboyant way. So many adults just turned up the volume, as if a kid couldn't hear. But Christopher got quietly attentive, like a shy child himself. The two of them sat at the kitchen table with their twin bowls of cereal and studied the back of the box together. Mary Martha soon was chattering away, and when she invited Christopher to see her unicorns, Rebecca took it as a sign and let him have the apartment. She was tempted to renege the next day. The deluge of applicants responding to the newspaper ad included a number of solid citizens. But by then she had cashed his monastery check for him and accepted first and last in cash, and he was settled in. And Rebecca had to admit that Christopher's delight in the in-law apartment was charming. She'd never seen a man so grateful for a shower, a hot plate, and a half-fridge. To Br. James Donovan c/o Our Lady of Bethany Monastery Mendocino County, CA Dear Brother James, Thank you for... (Continues...) Excerpted from The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington Copyright © 2003 by Tim Farrington Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.