The Religion of Self-Enlightenment by Emily Scialom

The Religion of Self-Enlightenment by Emily Scialom follows Carrick Ares before and after a near-death experience. We meet him just before the accident and get to know him as he was. Before he died, Carrick coasted through life, careful to have no opinions, to have just the right responses to everything so as not to offend anyone, with no real depth to his thoughts or emotions. He was emotionally immature and lived superficially.

Most of the book is set after Carrick is revived. We follow him through the rest of the story as he grapples with the experience and what he saw while he was dead. His ideas about the world and how a person should live are broken apart. His emotional world is described as, “…fragmenting like a melting sheet of ice, its pieces drifting apart with slow yet unstoppable certainty.”

As he struggles with the chaos now in his mind, we see how his family, friends, and his psychiatrist react to him. He runs through emotions almost as if he’s grieving, which in some ways he is. As Carrick tries to piece together what happened to him and to make sense of it in this world, he’s wandering in a murky and confusing place. As he starts spiraling out of control, small bits of the story remind the reader of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath as the main character grapples with her emotions, slowly losing control.

After meeting Carrick before the accident and following his experiences after, you hope that he will mature emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The before Carrick was emotionally immature, but so is the after Carrick. Carrick has changed certainly but not as much as one would have hoped, especially given where he started. Even after his experience and at the end of the story, he is often a difficult character to like given his immaturity and inability to relate to people.

For most of the story, the reader lives inside Carrick’s head. At times it seems like an endless monologue. The sections in scene where Carrick is actually interacting with the other characters is a nice reprieve. We learn more from those short instances than we do spending so much time in his head. A person cannot understand life entirely inside their own head. It’s the time spent with others that shape us as people, even Carrick after his accident. The story would have been more relatable if we, as the readers, had seen more of Carrick’s actions rather than just following along with his thoughts.

Although I don’t agree with the conclusion Carrick comes to in the end as he pulls together his experiences, I think everyone can relate to grappling with the complexities of life and death. It’s a struggle we all face, trying to understand what life is about, our purpose here, and what happens when we leave this life. They are questions science, religion, and philosophy have all tried to answer since time began. As Carrick confronts these questions and tries to cope with his experience, we can all see at least a small part of ourselves in him.

By: Melissa Blakely