My Friend Amy’s Faith in Fiction Saturday – Escapism

I need to explain. On Saturday I went to my friend Julie Carobini‘s book signing (latest release is Sweet Water – and you can read my review here) held at a bookstore in my corner of SoCal.

Yes, I’m fully aware the title to this post says “My Friend Amy” not “Julie.” 😉 (There is method in my madness!)

As it turned out, Amy, author of the blog My Friend Amy, was also at the book signing (which I discovered, was also for Mike Yorkey, co-author with Tricia Goyer of the historical novel The Swiss Courier).

So today I stopped by My Friend Amy’s and discovered that she has instituted Faith in Fiction Saturday’s in which she will introduce a topic or ask a question, then those who wish can blog on the same. Cool idea! 😎 And as it happens, I want to blog about the latest topic:

Which brings me to today’s question…is Christian fiction too often characterized by escapism? And if it you think it’s truly healthy for Christians to constantly take in messages of faith that are light or too easily resolved? Is it okay to have a less than happy ending in a Christian fiction book?

Let me start with the last (since the last shall be first 😛 ). I definitely think it is okay to have a less than happy ending in a Christian novel. First, such an ending seems desirable according to Hooked, the Writer’s Digest instruction book I’m currently reading. The most satisfying ending according to this author, Les Edgerton, is a win-lose ending. I suspect this is because it mirrors real life, and certainly the Christian worldview of life.

Our experience on earth is hard and then we die, but the loss leads to great gain—eternity with our loving God and Father. It’s the idea of grieving with hope.

Which leads to the other parts of the question. Is it truly healthy for Christians to constantly take in messages of faith that are light or too easily resolved? I don’t think it’s healthy at all. Once in a while, sure. There are some days that seem to require a light-hearted approach, whether from laughter or “it all comes right in the end” stories. But just like an exclusive diet of chocolate, as yummy as it is, does not make for a healthy body, exclusively reading fiction that sugar-coats reality instead of revealing it isn’t healthy for the soul, in my opinion.

A sugar-coated ending to the “story” of Jesus’s life would have had Him calling on those legions of angels at His command and crucifying Pilate and the Pharisees on the cross meant for Him. Instead, He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Nothing sweet about the end of His earthly life. And how glad I am that He was willing to make the sacrifice He did. Because He walked the lose-win storyline, I can too.

I think, because we Christian authors know joy awaits, and we wish to encourage through our stories, we may give the false message that everything ends well. What we need to be showing is that even when everything doesn’t end well, the believer has reason to hope.

Now to the first question: is Christian fiction too often characterized by escapism? Some is, and the temptation is for all of us Christian authors to unintentionally write an escapist story.

I tend to think, though, that the stories that dig deep, and explore truths that aren’t easy or obvious, won’t feel like escapism even if they have a happy-happy ending. The characters will be changed by their experiences, not untouched by them, and that doesn’t feel like escapist literature. The escape kind has the characters acting as if death and wounds and fear vanish after a good night’s sleep. 🙄

So what are your thoughts about escapist literature?

Sweet Waters – A Review

Julie Carobini, who refers to herself as a beach-lit writer, is a talented novelist. Her latest book, Sweet Waters, first in the Otter Bay series put out by B&H Publishing Group, is another delightful example.

My favorite thing about Julie’s writings, from the first time I read her work in a mentoring seminar at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference is her unique voice. My one desire is to see more of that in her novels, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, a mea culpa: I read Sweet Waters a month ago—right after I got it. But I had just completed back to back tours for Robin Parish and Andrew Peterson, and was sort of “reviewed out.” However, once I set the book aside to review “later,” it disappeared on the “waiting for later” stack. 😦 The delay between finishing the book and doing the review is in no way a reflection upon my opinion of the story! With that being said, on to the review.

The Story. Tara Sweet, oldest of three sisters, decides after the death of her father, her mother’s remarriage, and the breakup with her boyfriend, to leave her midwest home and head for California where she remembers happy years as a small girl.

When she arrives in the town she has romanticized, however, she begins to unravel realities regarding her family that destabilize her world.

Add in a growing friendship with firefighter Josh Adams who has his own problems to work through and the friction between her and her sisters, and Tara’s dream of recapturing the joy of her early years seems lost forever.

Strengths. I’ve already alluded to “voice.” In this particular novel, the characters’ voices come through. From dinner-owner Peg to successful sister Mel and empathetic employer Nigel, each has a distinct voice. Here’s a taste:

“You made it here a day early,” I say.

Mel glances around, her eyes stopping randomly, staring at the kitschy beach decor that came with our cottage. Her attention turns to me. “It works. And close to the beach too. You didn’t have to fight it out with someone else, did you? There’s no little old lady crying in her soup over losing this one, I hope.”

I shake my head. “Being on your own hasn’t changed you one bit.”

“In other words, I’m still as nasty as always.”

The distinct character voices help create realistic, believable characters, another strength of the novel.

As is place. I feel as if I’ve been to Otter Bay because Julie makes the setting come alive, a hard thing to do, in my opinion. Characters come alive by what they do and say. A setting comes alive by how the characters interact with it. Julie does this well.

The story is interesting and tension abounds. Why is Peg so set against the Sweets? Are the snatches of history Tara begins to uncover true or are they lies?

There is also strong, believable, well-integrated Christianity. Many of the characters profess faith and some live it out while others don’t. Some characters show no interest in God or “religion,” and some act in overtly sinful ways. The variation makes the world seem more real and the faith of the faithful true.

Weaknesses. I’ve mentioned voice several times. I do think Julie has a natural fresh voice and her characters pop off the page because of their distinct voices. I think I want more of that. Mel has a somewhat snarky voice but isn’t particularly likable. Tara, however, is the sensible one and has the least distinct voice of all. I’d like to see her stand out from the crowd more. But then, she wouldn’t be Tara. So it’s a curious point.

Another one is that this book is labeled Christian fiction/romance, and certainly B&H is known for its romance. However, this book is not your typical romance. I’d say it has romance in it, but it isn’t a romance. Someone picking the book up expecting to find a typical boy-meet-girl, yada-yada-yada story, may be disappointed.

I wasn’t. Rather, I was pleased with the depth and insight and character growth, with a little romance along the way as a nice bit of spice.

Recommendation. This book came out in August with a “Pure summer, pure enjoyment” marketing tag. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Sweet Waters is nothing but light, summer entertainment. This is a quality book and an enjoyable story, in the fall and winter and spring as much as in the summer. I highly recommend this book to women looking for a good story.

Published in: on September 14, 2009 at 12:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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