Yesterday I finished Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. This is a truly great story, completely enthralling once it gets going, and very well told. Read it, you’ll thank me.

Not that I’ve ever seriously entertained the thought of being a novelist myself, but work this good vaporizes any fledgeling aspirations that might have been rattling around the back of my warehouse of half-baked daydreams. And yet, in other ways, the book inspires me. Go figure.

Soon after the shipwreck, I was looking among the events and lifeboat inhabitants for meaning related to Pi’s braid of three faiths. I couldn’t see any, so for most of the rest of my reading, I thought of it simply as an adventure story, without allegorical meaning. When Pi encountered the other lifeboat, I wondered if he was delusional, and by the time he was on the algae island I was pretty sure. But even so, I was totally fished in by his unreliable narration when it came to Richard Parker.

Even now, I don’t want to believe the “story without the animals.” As I read that account of the voyage, I thought, “Okay, now he’s telling them what they want to hear by substituting people for the animals.” Doubt first crept in when I noticed how quickly this alternate story rolled off his tongue. I considered it. I kept thinking about it for a long time. It crushed me to think this was the truth. Now I make a conscious decision to believe the other story, much like Pi has done.

I wasn’t sure quite what Pi meant at the end, when he asked “Which is the better story?” and responded to their answer with “Thank you. And so it is with God.” Sitting here just now, typing it, I think I finally get it. It gets back to the inter-faith stuff from early in the book. Pi means that God wants us to choose the best story and believe in that. The significant parts are the same no matter which you choose to believe, and the rest doesn’t matter to God. (Something like that. Maybe I’ll come back and explain it better later.)