God makes only a brief appearance in Allegra Goodman's "Paradise Park," but one glimpse is enough to send Goodman's engaging narrator on a 20-year search to find him again. After being dumped in a cheap Waikiki hotel by her idealistic but no-account boyfriend, Sharon Spiegelman gets a peek at the Ultimate Reality while whale-watching off Honolulu. "I saw something," says Sharon. "It was a whale, but not just the whale. It was a vision."

Sharon spends the rest of the book chasing another fix of the divine, serially taking up and dispensing with Buddhism, hippified nature-worship, born-again Christianity, New Age seminars, and "ultra-Orthodox" Judaism. Sharon is more than a seeker: she doesn't ask what is in each religion for her. She's there for Jesus, not demanding He be there for her. But her intensity leads to serial disappoinments. Searching for God, all she finds is religion.

Goodman, whose previous books, "Kaaterskill Falls" and "The Family Moskowitz," examined the lives of American Jews, has a rollicking good time with Sharon's tour of modern faith. Sharon herself gains wisdom exceedingly slowly, and at times Sharon's naivete threatens to become as grating to the reader as Sharon can be to her spiritual mentors. But she never becomes a spiritual scold, and never gives up her trust, which buoys the story along, and keeps Goodman's examination of religion from growing mean or judgemental. The pontificating holy men Sharon meets on her faith walk are punctured hilariously but charitably. For Goodman, the worst sin is to be sure of one's dogma but not of oneself, and Sharon's triumph is coming to see that finding herself is the first important step to finding God.

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