Thursday, March 03, 2016

An Inkling of the Leftovers

That Day, Great and Terrible by Brian Scott: A Review

It's not every day that one of your seminary classmates publishes a novel, so fair warning, my experience reading this book is colored by my personal knowledge of the author.

Second strike against writing any kind of review of this book, I don't really read Christian fiction. Ever. I've avoided every possible series of Christian novels ever written, from Left Behind, to those weird angel novels, to, well, I don't even know, because I try not to even drift close to the Christian novel shelves in the bookstore.

Okay, I did read The Shack. And there is a special place in my heart for the work of The Inklings, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers in particular, so I guess on another level you could say I do read Christian fiction. Nevertheless.

So I downloaded Brian's novel to my Kindle and started reading last week. Here's the thing. It's kind of amazing. It has in some ways the same premise as another novel I read last year, Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers. Basically, what if there is a rapture, but it is arbitrary?

A significant difference between Scott's novel and Perrotta's is that Scott writes from an expressly theological perspective. Perrotta thrills simply in the social complexity of the effect of people disappearing. His is a wild ride.

Scott's is a wild ride also (oh my gosh, so many things freaked me out, my heart was racing). People are manipulated, children are possessed, Scott hits magical realism notes at all the right places, so on another level, the book reads like a Haruki Murakami novel, so real until it isn't.

I have trouble reconciling Scott's Lutheran pastoral chops with the book he has written. The preachers in this book are nothing like the preachers I know. It's almost as if Scott hid in the basement bathroom of a congregation for a few years and invented what church might be like if it turned sideways from everything we know. But of course that is also what makes the book not suck. I can't imagine Scott trying to write a book about actual Lutheran congregations, and he doesn't.

I was particularly taken with his exploration of the narrative implications of a theology of judgment. So many wounded people wounding each other. If there's one weakness in the book, it is that Scott so far asserts a love of God theology rather than showing it. But I have a feeling there is a next novel that enters into this more deeply. If you've read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, you have a sense of how this novel proceeds. It starts out bad and gets worse, but there is a light carrying its way through and peaking out if ever so dimly at the end.

If you've ever wondered how to split the difference between the grotesque twisting of Revelation in the Left Behind novels and the actual concept of the coming parousia articulated in Christian tradition, and if you've wanted to explore that concept in a rollicking and heart-racing read, this is the book.

I know I'm all in for the sequel.

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