CSFF Blog Tour – The Strange Man, Day 3

Last month I wrote an article for Speculative Faith about the horror genre entitled “What Gives You Nightmares?” It was a bit of a reversal for me, as I admitted that I now understand books classified as horror can be explorations of the spiritual. Sure, there are some that exist primarily to incite an adrenaline rush, but the more serious novels do more.

We have more in this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature, The Strange Man by Greg Mitchell. Granted, there are still plenty of adrenalin-rush-inducing scenes in the book — horror is front and center in the story.

Accompanying the horror was a good deal of violence, and yet the story doesn’t exist for the primary purpose of igniting fright. Rather it uses fear as a prime mover toward God. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. Dras Weldon, like all the other young adults in his dying town, was raised on tales of the bogeyman. Of course he didn’t believe them. Who would?

But then Dras didn’t believe in much else either despite the fact that his father, before his illness, was the pastor of the local church, and despite his own religious experience as a nine year old.

Instead Dras seemed stuck in adolescence. He partied hard, lived for himself, sponged off his parents, let his home become a pig sty. Oh, wait, that rings a bell.

Yes, like the other more famous prodigal, Dras had an older brother, Jeff, the good one who took over the pastoral duties from their father. And like the protagonist of the parable, Dras came to his senses. How that happened and the ramifications for his best friend Rosalyn and, in fact, for the whole town, made up the better part of the story.

And you know I wouldn’t think to spoil your reading experience by telling you more, right? 😉

Strengths. For those who have been looking for a book of Christian fiction that fits into the horror genre, this is it. Others have danced on the edge, but this one puts a demon and gremlins front and center.

A strength? Certainly, since that’s what author Greg Mitchell was aiming for. He established a credible town with believable characters and brought monsters into their midst. From the horror side of things, I think he succeeded in what he intended to do.

I think he also succeeded in bringing the issue of salvation front and center. Is a person saved because he prayed a prayer at youth camp one summer, even though he’s been a hell-raiser ever since? How does a person convince others that his life is new when he comes to his senses?

On a writerly note, I think Greg did a wonderful job making the ne’er-do-well protagonist into a likable, sympathetic character. From the beginning I pulled for Dras to change, to do better, to stand up, to become a man of integrity.

Weaknesses. Some people thought there was too much violence in this book. For me, because it’s horror, I was not surprised by the level of inhumane treatment or the raw descriptions. Consequently, I am NOT listing the violence as a weakness.

Rather, the things I saw are issues of craft — things readers probably won’t notice, though they might be pulled from the story by them and not know why.

First was the point of view. In reality this story was more nearly written in the omniscient view, a camera-lens perspective — which makes sense because it was first written as a screen play. However, as a novel it was forced into the view of multiple individuals. Unfortunately there were many point of view characters and unintended shifts, so the story had an uneven feel.

Perhaps a larger issue was some inconsistence in the story world. For example, at a certain point the sheriff mandated a curfew for the town. In one scene, the fact that people were to be off the streets by nine fueled the action. In the very next scene, however, the principle character seemed oblivious to the existence of a curfew. As did all the drivers whose cars Dras dodged during two critical parts of the story.

      * * * SPOILER ALERT * * *

Another example is how the evil forces treated Dras. Since he was marked by God, the Strange Man said he couldn’t touch him. However in a later scene, the forces that seemed to follow the Strange Man’s orders nearly squeezed the life from him.

Dras also was able to out run, or nearly so, the gremlins chasing him, but in an earlier scene one of the characters in a car couldn’t stay ahead of them.

      * * * END SPOILER ALERT * * *

These inconsistencies didn’t ruin the story for me, but they certainly did pull me from the fictive dream. And since I don’t take to horror, I guess I really didn’t mind so much. 😉 Others, however, might.

Recommendation. I applaud Greg Mitchell for writing a horror story for the Christian market. I applaud Realms, the publisher of The Strange Man for taking the risk to put horror into Christian bookstores. Certainly, the story will appeal to those drawn to the dark — a significant number of young adults, I believe. And perhaps this is a book Christians can give to their unsaved friends steeped in the genre. I recommend it to all those readers.

Published in: on April 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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