David Schickler’s memoir, The Dark Path, is about a lifelong balancing act between God and sex. Does one cancel out the other? It opens with 10-year-old David staring at a pretty girl at Mass, a scene that emblematizes his twin obsessions. Religion comes naturally to David, who as a child is drawn to the quiet suburban woods behind his house, and to a dark path through the trees where he talks to God. But more earthly forms of love appeal just as much, as the young David charmingly inquires of each new crush, “Are you my wife?” (Luckily, not out loud.)
What begins as a cute story of boyish tension soon deepens into actual conflict. Witnessing the casual cruelty of teenage sex sends David careening toward the Church, especially during his college years at Georgetown. But the Jesuit brotherhood contains its own hypocrisies, and David is left stranded with neither God nor girlfriend to sustain him. The scenes depicting how his spiritual crisis leads to physical and mental collapse are searing and honest. We witness a loving heart laid waste by the collapse of its belief system.
Although this may sound grim, Schickler’s deft hand with dialogue, scene and humor maintains a light touch, and provides an interesting contrast to the dark night of the soul he undergoes. You can sense his screenwriter’s eye in the scenes set at the boarding school in Vermont where he goes to teach and has a nervous breakdown—his depiction of his students responding to him crying in class is priceless.
So this is a comic memoir, and yet its great strength is the simplicity and gentleness of the heart under examination. The balancing act between God and sex is mirrored by the equilibrium the book maintains between humor and despair. With The Dark Path, Schickler has written a spiritual memoir about love as the common denominator between religious and earthly passions.