Lion Country (1971)

Finalist for the National Book Award, 1971

Book Description

Lion Country is a richly entertaining book, sometimes very funny, sometimes very moving, and always deeply suggestive of meaning somewhere beyond itself. Its first-person narrator, Antonio Parr, is a thirty-four-year-old ex-teacher, ex-sculptor in scrap iron, ex-would-be-novelist who on impulse answers the ad of a religious diploma mill. He receives his ordination through the mail, allowing him tax and other advantages, and eventually meets the ebullient and wonderfully ambiguous head of the organization, Leo Bebb. Antonio's twin, Miriam, is dying of a bone disease in Manhattan, but he is so fascinated as well as repelled by Bebb that he seeks him out in Armadillo, Florida—the site of The Church of Holy Love, Inc.—where most of the novel's action takes place. It is here that he meets, among others, Brownie, Bebb's peculiarly seraphic assistant; Hermon Redpath, a septuagenarian satyr whom Bebb hopes to make his patron; and Bebb's twenty-one-year-old daughter, Sharon, with whom Antonio Parr falls in love. In addition to conferring degrees in almost anything on almost anybody who can meet the fee, Bebb turns out to have been tried earlier on charges of sexual exhibitionism; and as Parr's knowledge of him deepens, together with his knowledge of himself, their destinies grow curiously linked.

Although Mr. Buechner writes with the same brilliance of language and imagery as in his earlier novels and is concerned as always with the depth and complexity of human life, Lion Country stands apart from his earlier work. There is a lightness of touch here, a sensuousness, a feeling of celebration, that should make him accessible to a far larger circle of readers. Leo Bebb is perhaps the strongest example of a recurring Buechner theme: the sinner and the saint rolled together into one. As W. Dale Brown puts it: "Is it possible that the unlikeliest of vessels, the obvious shyster, that round ball of contradictions and failings, could function as an instrument of grace?"

In his second memoir, Now and Then, Buechner describes his experience writing Lion Country: “For the first time I felt free to be funny in ways that I hadn't felt comfortable being in print before, to let some of my saltier-tongued characters use language that before had struck me as less than seemly in a serious work of fiction, to wander off into quirkish reminiscences and observations that weren't always directly related to my central purpose. There was all of that to help make my writer's task an excitement and a delight instead of a burden to labor under…But there was also something more than just that, and what it was, supremely and without any question, was Bebb himself. When I reached the final page of Lion Country, I tried my hand at a few other things, but it wasn't long before I started a second novel about him called Open Heart, and then Love Feast, and then Treasure Hunt, none of them ever quite the joy-rides that Lion Country had been but all of them written because I couldn't help myself, because I missed Bebb too much to let him go, or because—whatever it may mean to say so—Bebb would not let me go.”


“Frederick Buechner is one of our finest writers. He has produced a body of work as impressive as any American writer currently practicing the art of fiction.  Lion Country…has many morals, not the least being that a constantly entertaining novel can also deal successfully with the most serious ideas.”
— James Dickey

“Frederick Buechner can find grace and redemption even in the shoddiest, phoniest aspects of a cultural wasteland. One reads Lion Country…with hope and delight.”
— Louis Auchincloss

“Frederick Buechner’s career has worked its way in twenty years through the serious precocity of A Long Day’s Dying into a profound calm contemplation of the nonhuman sources of life, knowledge and joy. Now—when the danger was that calm would become becalmed—he has written Lion Country, a novel that demands a new kind of energy from his old sources. Demands and gets—it is his richest work, and unprecedented comedy which resounds, for me, with a depth and length that reconfirm not only his own high position among living novelists but our overdue debt of attention and gratitude to him for craft, stamina, wisdom, and, now, laughter.”
— Reynolds Price

“This is Frederick Buechner's sixth novel and his best.”

“Lion Country is a fine blend of craft and comedy.”
Philadelphia Inquirer

“...Disparate elements fuse brilliantly in a novel that is genuinely entertaining and also genuinely moving.”
— Barbara Bannon, Publishers Weekly

Lion Country is elegantly written and very funny—a serious theme embedded in hilarity.  Lion Country is a splendid book.”
Boston Globe