Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Secular Fiction and Christian Fiction

When I read a Christian fiction, I hope for a couple of things.  One of them is appropriate language used in how the characters think about each other and relate to one another.  Another is a sense of hope--it is the hope of Christ that I long for as I read the story in someone's life, whether at the beginning or at the end of the story, but I look for it somewhere in there.  We are called to be in the world, but not of it.

The scripture says in Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  We are to be wise about what we think about and so that is why I am very careful about what secular fiction I read.  

I have very different expectations of secular fiction.  I read two of Jodi Piccoult's novels a few years ago and my stomach was left in knots at the end of them.  I was faced by the strong reality of pain in life and left nowhere to turn with it at the end of the story.  I do not expect a filter on the minds and tongues of the characters in secular fiction.  I do not expect to have a sense of hope and peace when I read such a book.

One of the weaknesses of Christian fiction is often that it seems too neatly tied up at the end.  All the ts are crossed and i's dotted.  Much of Christian fiction is very good fodder for made for tv movies (which I have to say I do enjoy).  But, I know that there is an element that isn't realistic to many Christian fiction novels as well.  In life, everything doesn't always end up "happily ever after" the way we hope it will.

My very favorite book, ever, is Leota's Garden by Francine Rivers.  I love the humanness of the characters and that the book is realistic.  I also like that the end isn't entirely neatly tied up in a bow.  It is just like life.  But, I will contrast that with the book that I just read yesterday, Amy Inspired.  When I finished Leota's Garden, my heart felt a sense of hope and joy.  When I finished Amy Inspired, I felt like I did when I watched the movie Coraline.  I was faced with the yuckiness of life and couldn't dispel the sadness it filled my heart with.

On Sunday, I opened up Amy Inspired.  I read the prologue and genuinely enjoyed Bethany Pierce's writing.  She is obviously a very good writer.  I was hopeful for the novel and really looking forward to reading more of it on Monday.  When I picked it up on Monday morning, I began to read and a sickening feeling started to grow in my stomach.  The story of the lives of the characters in this book just made me feel horrible.  Amy Gallagher is about 30 and is the main character.  She lives with her roommate Zoe in an apartment above a garage.  She works as an adjuct faculty member at the college where she earned her master's degree.  She is disparaging of herself and others.  She often mentions growing up in a fundamentalist church, but her faith isn't personal.  Not in the sense that she has any filters on her eyes or thoughts.  I do not sense hope in her character at all.  She is resigned and gloomy.  Then a man moves into their apartment, Eli.  That brings a whole other dimension to the writing of this book--and to the descriptions.  I didn't even want to read the graphic physical descriptions of Zoe and Amy that Ms. Pierce wrote.  And then there was the description of Eli.  I don't know what Emo exactly means, but it seems to describe tween angst.  I think this novel is a grown up version of tween "Emo" angst.

There is one particular thing that I do expect of novels published by Christian publishers and that is "no sex".  And if there is, then I expect that there will be consequences of it and a realization that it isn't what God desires for us.  This novel pushed so, so very close to the line that you would have thought two of the characters did in fact have sex.  I read a book last year in which all of the characters were living together outside of marriage and were having sex.  I wrote a negative review of the book because none of the characters felt that it was wrong either in the middle or end of the book.  I was concerned about the message the book sent to readers about what is "normal".  I have a similar concern for this book.  The writing was visually stimulating and not in a good way.  That's the only way I can think to put it.

Amy Inspired would be much better thought of as a secular fiction novel.  Do not consider this a Christian fiction novel.  The characters do go to church, but they aren't seeking God and His will for their lives.  I do believe there are grey Christians--life is not all black and white.  Grey Christians are Christians that go to church out of habit, but don't seem to have really surrendered.  They say the Bible is a good moral guide and choose to live by the parts that they want to.  That is what the characters in this book are like.

This novel is categorized as "Contemporary Fiction".  It is just that.  It is not inspirational fiction and it is not Christian fiction.  Though the writing of this book is very good, I do not recommend it because I don't think it is edifying to read it.

Note to the author:  I'm very sorry Ms. Pierce.  I would love to read a book of yours in the future if the men and women respected one another and were not lustful towards one another in thought and deed and also if the characters come to grasp the hope of Christ at some point in the story.  You are a very good writer.

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishing.

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