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Selected as a top ten debut by the American booksellers association 

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About the Book

Forty years ago, Father Paul Novak had the only romantic affair of his life, with a young man he met while studying in Rome—a relationship he’s never told anyone about. Ever since, as he’s served as a respected rural pastor in Wisconsin, he’s battled with his desires to leave the priesthood in order to find love again, openly this time, but always decided it was a risk too big to take. Now, seventy years old, recently diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, he’s come to a lakeside cottage with his sister, Britta, in the hopes of once and for all coming to terms with his chosen life.


The problem is: it’s not working. 


As Britta—made fragile by the recent death of her beloved husband—attempts to discover the source of her brother’s sadness and bring him comfort, her daughter Maura finds herself standing on a similar precipice to her uncle’s, forced to choose whether to do what’s best for her husband and two young children—or be with the man she believes is her one, true love.


Set in Cape Cod, Wisconsin, and Rome—and featuring one of the most unconventional love stories you’ll read all year—The Wanting Life is a panoramic literary drama about the toll desire and obligation can take on us, as well as a powerful meditation on the comforts and limits of faith, intimacy and familial love.


“Mark Rader's The Wanting Life is somehow both quiet and deeply unsettling. A profound meditation on what we owe others and also ourselves, it balances the pleasure to getting to know a handful of vivid characters with the disconcerting awareness that their moral choices are, seeming by design, as impossible as our own.”

-Richard Russo, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool, and That Old Cape Magic

“Mark Rader's tender, nuanced debut follows the life and loves of a dying priest and his compassion for a restless niece...Fans of The Great Believers will appreciate this story of heartfelt empathy.”

-Publisher's Weekly

“'What are we supposed to do when what we want isn’t possible unless we hurt others?' In Rader’s ambitious and deeply moving first novel, a beloved pastor and his niece confront this universal dilemma...With indelible images, exquisite emotional nuance, and genuine wisdom, Rader explores faith, regret, shame, fear, and, most of all, love.”

-Booklist (starred review)

“Through the intertwined stories of a dying priest full of regrets, his caretaker sister still mourning her late husband, and her adult daughter torn between her family and a new man in her life, Rader's poignant debut novel explores the emotional costs of seeking and sacrificing romantic love. . . An insightful and compassionate family drama about desire, love, and the courage it takes to live a full life.”

-Kirkus Reviews

"In his wise and intimate debut, Mark Rader displays an uncanny understanding of the human heart in conflict with itself. At once a Roman idyll and family saga, The Wanting Life is a deeply compassionate cautionary tale of love and regret."


-Stewart O'Nan, author of Emily, Alone and Henry, Himself

"The Wanting Life combines the best of old-school storytelling—intricate psychology, respect for characters, and serious exploration of faith—with contemporary candor and eroticism. Deeply complex and compulsively readable, this multi-generational story interrogates desire, truth, and what it means to lead a full life, in ways that are eternally urgent."


-Gina Frangello, author of A Life in Men and Every Kind of Wanting

"There is an essential goodness at the core of Mark Rader's wise, tender, and emotionally precise debut novel. In eloquent prose, Rader deftly illuminates three intertwined lives filled with longing, regret, desire, grace, and cautious hope—lives distinct yet poignantly familiar. I felt privileged to know their fears and secrets and to be in the hands of an author who explores them with such generosity and love."


-Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men

"Who deserves to love and be loved? Mark Rader's moving, immersive novel The Wanting Life is a master class in the human heart, with achingly real characters whose stories reveal the mystery and power of great love, even (especially) when it's just out of reach. Beautiful, suspenseful, and ultimately hopeful."


-Siobhan Adcock, author of The Barter and The Completionist

"An electric, joyful, and dangerous wit whips around under the floorboards of this stunning first novel.  With the good cheer of a Midwestern neighbor winking at you while saving your life during a tornado, Rader dares the reader, over and over again, to feel sad at nature's oldest tricks, to be angry at simply death, or to hide from what we all know is true in our hearts.  By the end of The Wanting Life, Rader ignites pretty much everything in sight— including you—in a firestorm of leave nothing behind."


-Patrick Somerville, author of The Cradle and This Bright River

"Like the work of Alice Munro and Andre Dubus, Mark Rader's The Wanting Life envelops us in the passionate questions and dramas hidden under the surface of ordinary lives. As a novel, it's both deeply absorbing and deeply rewarding."


-Rob Roensch, author of The Wildflowers of Baltimore

"In crystalline prose, The Wanting Life pulls us back and forth between positions of temperance and desire, walking a line above what lies below—a vertiginous drop of wanting without end. For these characters— and I can say, for this reader—the story offers essential handholds for the balancing act of being alive."


-Benjamin Warner, author of Thirst

"Mark Rader's devastating debut novel The Wanting Life is as much about the losses that arrive with aging as it is about the power and necessity of memory. Every life is a love story, this book reminds us, and at every stage there's a chance for a different future. I loved it."

-Hannah Pittard, author of The Fates Will Find Their Way and Visible Empire

Mark Rader was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, educated at Tulane University and Cornell University, and now lives with his family just outside Chicago. His short fiction has been published in Glimmer Train, Epoch, The Southern Review and shortlisted for an O. Henry Award, the Best American Non-Required Reading anthology, and a Pushcart Prize. He has taught creative writing at Cornell, Northeastern University, Grub Street, and the University of Chicago's Graham School. The Wanting Life is his first novel. 

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