Buechner Themes

Hope Through Grace

Buechner’s claim as a novelist is to demonstrate the flow of grace in a world unaware of or resistant to its operation, the grace of God in all the mire of worldly day-to-dayness.
— Dale Brown

As Buechner’s fictional characters struggle through “the mixedness and muddle of human life,” searching for meaning, or just pretending not to care, they encounter the tough realities of the human condition—failure, rejection, tragedy, guilt, and sin of all sorts. But the message Buechner leaves us with, either directly or subtly, is that despite our human imperfection—and the difficult struggles and life challenges that result—there is always hope through the grace of God.
“The Gospel is bad news before it is good news.” In order to demonstrate the depth of the grace of God, Buechner tells stories that include great despair, emptiness, dysfunctional families and relationships, and other fallibility’s of humankind. But despite our faults, God is there too, intermingled in it all.
Buechner often uses his own life as an example, either through his memoirs or in fiction. As Dale Brown describes in The Book of Buechner: "The Wizard’s Tide is often grouped with Buechner’s novels, but that is a problematic classification, since the short book is so directly autobiographical…The Wizard’s Tide is a novel infused by memoir, or is it nonfiction infused by fiction?…The book is, as he labels it, “A Story,” but it is decidedly his own story, a thinly veiled revisiting of Buechner’s own childhood… The Wizard’s Tide is another take on the central event of Buechner’s life, his father’s suicide.”
In other cases Buechner is more direct, as in this passage from his third memoir Telling Secrets: “A rule that I had devastatingly laid down for myself was this: that I had no right to be happy unless the people I loved—especially my children—were happy too. I have come to believe that this is not true. I believe instead that we all of us have not only the right to be happy no matter what but also a kind of sacred commission to be happy—in the sense of being free to breathe and move, in the sense of being able to bless our own lives, even the sad times of our own lives, because through all our times we can learn and grow, and through all our times, if we keep our ears open, God speaks to us his saving word. Then by drawing on all those times we have had, we can sometimes even speak and live a saving word to the saving of others. I have come to believe that to be happy inside ourselves is in the long run the best we can do both for ourselves and for the people closest to us. If we do it right, maybe they can be helped to be a little stronger through our strength, maybe even a little happier through our happiness.”
Brown comments on how Buechner’s theme of grace in spite of life's challenges permeates his writings: “Buechner’s claim as a novelist is to demonstrate the flow of grace in a world unaware of or resistant to its operation, the grace of God in all the mire of worldly day-to-dayness.”
“Grace is something you can never get but only be given. The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach and take it is a gift too.” —Wishful Thinking


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 [part of The Book of Bebb]…has many morals, not the least being that a constantly entertaining novel can also deal successfully with the most serious ideas.
— James Dickey

Buechner handles difficult subjects with a casual aplomb and easy analogy...
— Time Magazine