Of Mind or Matter begins with Ballard Davies making a clean and sudden break from his empty existence in California and driving towards a new life far away from his drug-dealing convict father and unpleasant memories of growing up. When exhaustion halts his eastward drive, he ends up in the small town of Blue Bells and tries to find a foothold with a job as the local school janitor and among a group of colorful friends, including a Costa Rican waitress named Elizabeth who he immediately falls for.
The story largely involves Ballard and his friends’ quest for fulfillment, with a division appearing between those embracing spirituality and contact with a mystical tree woman called Grandma Daisy and those gravitating around a gruff but highly learned, rationalistic local named Saul. After many emotional conflicts and separations as well as the appearance of the “Great Goddess,” the friends find resolution at a reunion dinner.
This novel’s biggest drawback is that it relies on telling the reader that Ballard is having a spiritual crisis or is engaged in a deep conversation rather than actually showing these moments. The organization and pacing of the work overall is very odd, as the climactic spiritual revelation scene near the end is followed by a summary treatment of the following decade. The closing reunion scene is packed into the book’s last few pages and, thus, has no dramatic effect. A tremendous amount of time is spent on Ballard’s love for Elizabeth, but when their spiritual orientation leads her to reject personal love as selfish and they end as platonic friends, this becomes an unsatisfying strand of the story.
Ultimately, the author’s imposition of simplistic divisions Â¬— the notions of spirituality as healthy and of knowledge or rationalism as confining – never allows this story to go beyond these narrow, clichÃ©d oppositions and prevents it from bringing any authentic characters to life