After witches and black magic,  I wanted to lean towards the other end of the pole for something inspirational and good.  The Shack is my second read for my Fall Into Reading 2009 challenge.

Author :  William P. Young

Date of Publication :  July 1, 2007 (1st edition — paperback)

Publisher :  Windblown Media

ISBN-10: 0964729237

ISBN-13: 978-0964729230

No. of pages :  256

The Story:

Mackenzie Phillips is an average family man whose Christian faith is perhaps, like all the rest — seemingly steadfast,  until tragedy of immense proportions strikes.  Mack takes his kids, one day, on a camping trip where this life-changing event takes place.  Missy, his six-year old daughter is kidnapped and the worst is presumed.  A massive manhunt begins.  Soon evidence of Missy’s brutal murder is found through her bloody red dress on the floor of an old, ramshackle shack in the middle of the woods.  Not a trace else can be found, neither her body nor any DNA imprints from her abductor.

After four years, Mack still has no closure.  As he struggles with relationships within a family still struggling to cope in the aftermath, so does he wrestle with his relationship with God.  One day, Mack receives a note inviting him to go up to the shack.  The note is signed, “God”.

Angry, intrigued and prepared for the worst, Mack makes a trip up to the shack.  To his surprise, he does meet God…Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well.   But They are not who Mack expects.

My Review :

This is a kind of book that strikes the core of anyone who has ever been a parent. For what is a parent’s greatest fear but that of losing his beloved child? And how does one cope with a loss this staggering; more emphatically how does one come to terms with God, the only One a person is supposed to rely on when all else fails? How can one trust Him who has allowed such a horrible tragedy to happen? How can one even believe He exists?

These are the painful and complicated questions to which The Shack ambitiously tries to grapple. It does so by laying down the the framework of  Christianity, told through a beautiful story of a grieving father coaxed back toward redemption through face-to-face conversations with the Holy Trinity about questions that have plagued many a religion. Why does God allow evil? Why is there evil?  Why me?

This book answers philosophical questions with simplicity, distilling them down to their essences. It aims to cover man’s questions about existence sans religion;  although, it really pushes “Born-Again” Christian philosophies more than anything.

At the onset of Mack’s meeting with God, the author wipes out preconceived notions of God’s physical attributes giving totally different “looks” and personality to Him. God the Father is a big black woman; Jesus is an average looking Middle Eastern guy; the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman. Thus the author signals us that what his God will say are probably stuff that never occurred to you or was never taught in school theology.

The Shack is really a touching book, if you allow it to be.  It is over simplistic ; but God’s lessons,  although delivered so plainly does need some time to absorb. You may have to re-read some conversations and mull over them in order to get the full import of what the author wishes us to realize.

It’s quite easy to understand the popularity of this book.  It is by no means preachy (thank goodness, as I have an aversion to those).   I think the author was careful not to make it so.  He cleverly persuades the reader to look at it his way by creating casual conversations between God and Mack.  This way, he isn’t directly telling the reader what he ought to believe. The book is popular because it is simple, fictionalized into a heart-warming story which can touch Christians of all persuasions— Catholics, Baptists, Adventists, etc.  The author’s objective, I believe, must have been to write a book that would reach a wide audience, and to be sort of a subtle “missionary” piece of work. From this perspective, I’m sure it has achieved what it was meant to do.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Whether to read this or not, I give mixed encouragement.

If you are put off by authors who humanize God, the depiction of God as a colored woman in a colorful “mumu”, baking pies while fielding answers to serious questions may not be your cup of tea.

To read this book, you must drop all prejudices and just try to get into the author’s head — really look at what he is trying to say and you may just discover some really good philosophies. They may not answer everything but what man can, anyway? William P. Young, though, makes a marvelous try.

Some Catholics may find this a bit pushy on the “Born-Again” Christian concepts; but then, most of the lessons here are pretty universal and the reader may be enriched by them:

God : “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”   — p. 185

God :  “All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice.  If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning.  This world is not a playground  where I keep all my children free from evil.  Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say.  Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t.  If I take away the consequences of people’s choices , I destroy the possibility of love.  Love that is forced is no love at all.”  — p. 190

In A Nutshell:

One important criteria I usually keep in mind when reviewing a book is how successful an author has been in accomplishing what he set out to do.   He may have characters I may not like nor identify with but if he was able to do what he aimed to do, (ex. create a character and develop him realistically),  I regard this as a success and factors heavily in my decision toward a good rating.  Why do I say this?

A number of condescending reviews have been written to complain of the naivete  of Young’s concepts, his lop-sided depiction of  God— kind, patient, forgiving, loving… (where is His other side, the side that punishes (ex. The Great Flood),  that is wrathful of  sin (ex. Sodom and Gomorrah)?)

Perhaps, they have missed the point of this book.  The author’s mission for this story is  redemption, about persuading people to turn back towards God and faith. This is what I believe Young set out to do.  Therefore,  to inspire people to do so, he wrote something simple, easy to read, with a topic close to people’s hearts, and with a God who is benevolently reaching out to them.  If this book has touched someone enough for him to discover God again, then Young is a success.  And this book has touched many.

If The Shack has made a mark on you, however small, then it is a good book to get back to from time to time, one deserving of a permanent space on your shelf.

My Mark  :  Outstanding

Advertisements

After two biblically oriented novels,  reading a novel set in our millennium with all the techno stuff and modern mores was a welcome change.

Author :  Lincoln Child

Publication Date :  October 31, 2006

Publisher :  Anchor

ISBN-10: 0307275566

ISBN-13: 978-0307275561

No. of  Pages :  416


The Story :

Consider this :  a matchmaker that can faultlessly predict your soul mate.   No more senseless dates, no uncomfortable and embarrassing encounters, no more guessing games.  Meet the spouse of your dreams!  For a service worth every penny,  Eden Inc., provides its daily hopefuls with matches made in heaven.  The secret behind this behemoth company’s success is a sentient computer program that can, aside from finding perfect couples,  creatively develop its own problem-solving skills and learn from its mistakes.

But Eden Inc.’s smug confidence cracks  when a very happily matched couple  (with a rare compatibility rating of  a hundred percent) is found dead with what looks like a double suicide.  The company hires a forensic psychologist, Christopher Lash, to investigate the tragedy of such a perfect union.

No motives or inclinations for self destruction nor murder appear to explain the deaths and Lash is stymied. The company seems puzzled as well.  And then, the next super couple is found dead, too, from suicide.  Lash intensifies his hunt; but the perpetrator launches a detrimental campaign against him.  As Lash works obsessively to piece the impossible enigma together,  someone with the clout and technology, changes his personal data so that Lash finds himself in a dangerous mess.  He must solve the riddle of the deaths to save himself as well.

The Review :

The first chapter opens with the neighbour resolving to investigate why the Thorpe baby, who hardly ever cries,  is unendingly squalling next door.  She enters the house and sees that:

“…the infant was strapped tightly into her high chair, facing the living room.  The little face was mottled from crying, and the cheeks were stained with mucus and tears.  Maureen rushed forward.  “Oh you poor thing.”…. she fished for a tissue, cleaned the child’s face.

But the crying did not ease.  The baby was pounding her little fists, staring fixedly ahead, inconsolable.

It took quite some time to wipe the red face clean, and by the time she was done Maureen’s ears were ringing with the noise.  It wasn’t until she was pushing the tissue back into the pocket of her jeans that she thought to follow the child’s line of sight into the living room.

And when she did, the cry of the child, the crash of china as she dropped the cookies, were instantly drowned by the sound of her screams.”

This ends the first chapter after which the reader is hooked and reeled in to read some more and find out : “What did the neighbour see?”.  It isn’t until chapter five that the author reveals what could possibly have frightened the neighbour.  By this time, one is already riveted enough to keep the pages turning.

Here we have death, mystery, impossibilities, and an enigma that seems to defy logical explanations.  The reader is compelled to turn page after page to see how the author resolves the quandary at which he keeps the reader wondering as well.

Unfortunately , the whodunit aspect of the story unravels to a disappointing revelation.  Perhaps this reviewer is simply jaded by the same plot ending as those of numerous science fiction movies on artificial intelligence, which have been popping up for several years now.  The conclusion seems to be a hackneyed modification of many a techno thriller with sentient computers as their focus.

Perhaps, if the A.I. theme were new and less explored, this book would be a blockbuster with a great, surprise ending.  But since this isn’t the case anymore, it’s a “roll-your-eyes”, “aww…not again” story that may make some want to throw the book after having had their anticipation built up most of the way.

This doesn’t take away, though , Child’s superb skill for suspense-thriller writing.  Being half of the great Preston-Child writing partnership of many outstanding suspense-mystery-thrillers, Child is no average author of this genre.  He does know how to grip one’s attention, build incredulity and suspense, and elicit steady page-turning well into the night.  For this novel, he cranks out at full speed all the way through the finish line; although around one-eighth of the way before the end, the effects are diminished considerably by the corny predictability of it all.

Please bear in mind, however, that this review is from a perspective of one who is simply tired of the same themes on artificial intelligence in science fiction stories.  If you have not yet been overly fed with a such a diet, this novel would be a terrific one to lose yourself in.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Since I can’t discuss what I mean by the same A.I. theme without the revealing the spoiler, the reader will just have to find out by himself.  (I’m sure those who’ve had a good share of sci-fi movies, know by now what I’m talking about.)  Again,  if you haven’t watched much on computers and robots, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this novel to its very end.  Otherwise, be prepared for a mediocre landing.

In A Nutshell :

It’s all about The End.  Here’s wishing that the author, having come up with a very strong beginning and having been able to sustain its pounding plot with irresistibly interesting events, chose his villain more creatively  in order to bring this book to a table-slapping, satisfying conclusion.

Once more, despite its mostly exhilarating eventualities and puzzling “whos”, “hows”, and “whys”, I must rate “Death Match” with the feeling it left me after I’ve turned the last page.

My Mark :  Good (Could have been better…)