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The Why Café    by John Strelecky order for
Why Café
by John Strelecky
Order:  USA  Can
Perseus, 2006 (2006)

Read an Excerpt

* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A man driving on a highway in search of a change of pace, an interruption to the momentum of a busy, humdrum life that does not satisfy him, muses, 'Sometimes when you least expect it, you find yourself in a new place, with new people, and you learn new things.' Detoured by a tanker accident that closed the road he was on (it carried possibly toxic materials), John loses his way. Eventually, frustrated, tired, hungry, and almost out of gas, he comes upon The Why Café in the middle of nowhere.

It's an unusual place, with 'the feel of an old diner.' The smells are enticing, the people are friendly, and the menu is weird. On the back cover are listed 'Items to Ponder While You Wait: / Why are you here? / Do you fear death? / Are you fulfilled?' Casey, Mike and Anne - waitress, owner/cook, fellow customer (and fellow seeker) - provide philosophical (almost telepathic) advice as John works his way through the questions on the menu, as well as the delicious food served while he works out answers.

It proves to be a life-changing experience for him, as the situation - and the questions - stimulate his re-assessment of his own priorities and life goals. He ponders his 'Purpose for Existing', while Casey tells him how snorkeling with green sea turtles shifted her own perspective. Then Mike shares a tale of a businessman and a fisherman, and his own realization that 'every day is an opportunity to do whatever I want.' And Anne describes the extent to which marketing drives what we think we want in life and how she moved out of the frenetic work/buy cycle.

They discuss fear of death as a fear of things undone, and how that fear dissipates when enthusiastically leading the fulfilled life that one chooses. Mike talks of how travel can stimulate new ideas, and his realization while watching a gorgeous sunset on a foreign beach that 'while I had been planning every minute of my life ... Paradise had been just a few hours' plane flight and some dirt roads away, and I didn't even know it existed.'

The Why Café offers wise, inspirational insights disguised as a short, allegorical story. At the back, it mentions that John Strelecky is donating 10 percent of all proceeds from book sales to a nonprofit supporting a group of charities. I especially like Mike's closing advice: 'Life is a great story, John. It's just that some people don't realize they are the author, and they can write it however they want.'

Listen to a podcast interview with John Strelecky at

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