I have two reviews I need to write. I'm going to start with the easier one, but it's actually the book that I enjoyed less of the two. Both were good books and both are ones I'd recommend. But the first comes with a caveat. It is not what I'd call Christian fiction. It is labeled "Christian fiction" and it is published by "Christian" publisher that is owned by a big, secular publisher. But, in my opinion, it is not Christian fiction. It is simply fiction. In my mind, I define Christian fiction as a book that is encouraging and points people to God. God is a primary player and events are attributed to be caused by him. Often books that are Christian fiction don't stack up to secular fiction in how good the writing is and how well developed the plots and characters of the stories are if compared to one another. It is also important to me that if there is twisted theology in it, that there is the counterbalance presence of theology that is true to the Word... and that the contrast can be seen. This morning I found this definition on Google when I entered "what is Christian fiction?"
"A Christian novel is any novel that expounds and illustrates a Christian world view in its plot, its characters, or both, or which deals with Christian themes in a positive way."
I wouldn't have put it that way, but I agree. The positive way is something that I find in some books and others not. It is also what is missing, mostly, in the book I just read. It's there. But, it's also not there. There's a lot of people saving themselves and finding their own ways. Forgiveness without God being a part of the picture. Wrong thinking about the nature of God and His love for us.
But, the book is well written and a well plotted out story. The book is the latest one published by Lisa Samson. Runaway Saint. It came out this past February and was published by Thomas Nelson.
As I started the first page, I was immediately reminded of how I reacted to Resurrection in May. Ms. Samson is a very good writer. Her descriptions and how she tells a story isn't formulaic like much of what I read in the Christian fiction genre. She gives her characters depth, some of which is visible and some hidden beneath layers but is implied.
The story centers on the arrival of Sara's Aunt Belinda. She brings a cloud of the unknown into her world when she comes. Sara is married to Finn, a patient man who loves Sara the way she is, but who also wanted to rescue her from the sadness hidden inside of her. Sara's character was difficult for me to sympathize with. All of the characters of this story are very real, almost too real and it is painful to observe their pain and how they aren't dealing with it. Sara's faith is twisted. Her view of God isn't one that is in the Bible. She's missing a lot of important pieces. Part of that is by choice and part of that is because of the pieces missing in her own parents lives. This isn't a Christian story, because it isn't really written from a "Christian world view" and I don't know that I would say the themes of the story are dealt with in a positive way in which God is a part of the picture. The themes and issues are dealt with as people find resiliency inside themselves.
Her setting for this book was interesting to me because it is set in Baltimore, a place I happen to live near. The main character, Sara, lives near Patterson Park, which is downtown Baltimore. It was interesting to see that she named so many specific places in the area. In the book they seem close together, but in the world of Baltimore, they're pretty far a part. Cockeysville is a good half hour (with no traffic which is never the case) from downtown according to Google Maps. The one thing that I couldn't get from the book was a sense of location of all of the places from how she puts them in the story. The places blend together and I could imagine most readers forming some amorphous map in his or my head based on the names of places that would be very inaccurate to where things actually are in reality. That is the difficulty of using real places in a story. I have noticed that it isn't as easy a thing to do in a fiction story as one might imagine.
But, what troubled me most is the ending to the story which I can't and don't want to give away. Needless to say, the conclusions Sara, her father, her aunt Belinda, and her mother came to about an incident from the past are wrong in my mind. This is what I will say. I find in myself the automatic thought that when something bad happens that someone or something is to be blamed and that it matters who that is. It must be identified. But, I have come to realize that that is false thinking. We, as human beings, are very quick to identify blame. And when we say "you're not to blame", a little part of is identifying that the other party is to blame--we're just not saying it. We say that to make people feel better most of the time. We are loathe to take responsibility ourselves or to identify accidents as truly "accidents". Such and such happened. No one intended it. There are times when no one is to BLAME. The word "BLAME" implies guilt and wrong done by an individual or group. Can you tell this bothers me? I was raised to identify blame--ALWAYS. This thinking impaired me for many years because it fed bitterness in my heart (just like what happens in this book). It also at times fed horrible guilt in my heart and despair. Now I fight it. Sometimes things happen. I know that everything is in God's plan and I choose to trust in his providence instead of searching for blame. Sometimes it helps to identify causes just so we can fight the fallacies and wrong thinking that comes from the wrong things people have said or done to us. Sometimes there is blame when wrong was done intentionally, but that blame and that wrong needs to be forgiven--and that can only be done truly with God's help. As humans, I don't think we can really do it on our own. We're sinners and we're imperfect at best. Accidents aren't about blame and I try to remember that when my kids break something I love. I try to remember that when we're late for swimming because the highway is at a stand still.
So, those are my feelings about this book. If you like realistic fiction... "real" realistic fiction, you'll like this book. If you like secular fiction without the crassness and harlequin undertones, then this is a book I'd recommend. If you liked Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, I'd recommend Resurrection in May and this one as well.
Please note that I received an complimentary e-copy of this book from Thomas Nelson for review.