The impetus for this slim, poetic volume was a stranger's correspondence. In April 1997 Reynolds Price received a letter from Jim Fox, a young man who had recently withdrawn from medical school due to colon and liver cancer. Fox had read A Whole New Life, Price's book about his bout and with spinal cancer, and was moved enough by their similar experiences to write. He was also searching for reassurance, or wisdom, if not outright answers: "I want to believe in a God who cares ... because I may meet him sooner than I had expected. I think I am at the point where I can accept the existence of a God (otherwise I can't explain the origin of the universe), but I can't yet believe he cares about us." The letter was so heartfelt and full of "un-self-pitying eloquence" that Price had "no choice but to answer it." His first response was presented as a lecture to the Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. Soon after he expanded it and released it as Letter to a Man in the Fire.
The questions implied in Fox's letter are simply paraphrased in the book's subtitle: "Does God Exist and Does He Care?" Though Price writes from the perspective of one who believes fully in the Christian tenet of the Holy Trinity, his message and sincere examination of the nature of faith make his words relevant to those of any denomination. Price incorporates, among many other sources, Milton, Dante, Dostoyevsky, Eliot, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Book of Job into his own spiritual awakenings in contemplating God's participation in the fate of humankind. He exposes biblical inconsistencies and apparent indifference to suffering as well as celebrating acts of healing and inspiring mystery.
What began as a long letter written in reply to one person became a book relevant to all. Unfortunately, Fox was never able to read either work. After sporadic e-mail and letter correspondence, a few phone conversations, and then several months without contact, Fox died in February 1998 at the age of 35. Before Price knew of Fox's fate, he continued working on his book "in the hope that, failing to reach its original aim, the text might find some use in the hands of others." To this end, Letter to a Man in the Fire is an unqualified success. Deep thoughts abound in these pages and his writing often soars. Price beautifully appeals to both the emotional and intellectual sides of faith. He is erudite, humble, and wise. He ponders some age-old questions, though ultimately unanswerable, in a moving and satisfying way. --Shawn Carkonen