Danny Gospel

Is there any decent fiction being written by Christians today? Notice I’ve said ‘fiction written by Christians’ and not ‘Christian fiction.’ I’d define the first as fiction that stands on its own as a well written piece of literature, and the second as fiction that either appeals only to Christians because it is set in a world of Bible believing Christian folk, or it is intentionally preachy, allegorical or concerned with openly Christian theology, eschatology etc.
The second category (Christian fiction) is not necessarily bad literature, but too often it is. A friend of mine once  heard a rock band described as a ‘Christian rock band’, ” and commented, “Hmmm. For ‘Christian’ read ‘inferior’.” Ditto ‘Christian literature’. When a fiction author sets out to make a point he too often sticks you with it. I’m no expert on contemporary literature, but I can think of some books that qualify as ‘Christian fiction’: the execrable Left Behind series of novels, a new rash of ‘Christian romance’ in which a pious gal with buck teeth and a zip up Bible with the words of Jesus printed in red gets her man, I fear the Catholic Father Elijah books fall into this category as do the stuff of Malachi Martin etc.
Christian fiction is not always awful, but often is. Fiction written by a Christian, on the other hand, has it’s Christianity written deep down. For this category,  the writer is first concerned to tell the story and tell the Truth. The Truth is far more likely to be successfully incarnated in the work of an Christian author (as opposed to one who writes Christian fiction)
Anyhow–this brings me to the brilliant new book Danny Gospel. The author, David Athey, reads my blog and sent me a review copy. As it turns out David teaches at West Palm Beach University–where my brother in law (wonderful artist and new Catholic)Jim Craft has just taken a job as associate professor of Art. I thought David was writing ’cause he knew Jim. Turned out he didn’t but they’ve now hooked up.
I’m getting off track. Danny Gospel is published by Bethany–a division of Baker Books. They’re to be congratulated for taking a chance on a new novelist and a book which is definitely a work of fiction by a Christian rather than a Christian work of fiction. Danny Gospel is one of two remaining members of a happily successful gospel singing family. He lives in a trailer in Iowa and works as a mailman, and is on the edge of sanity. Praying like crazy, his journey is at once an attempt to hang on to reality and seek a newer and higher reality. 
With a delightfully eccentric cast of characters, a sympathetic hero and a touching reconciliation and resolution, Danny’s story is a poignant, mystical and moving new novel.
Athey creates a religious scene that evokes Pat Conroy’s family sagas, the gospel-south of Flannery O’Connor, Robert Duvall’s films, Tender Mercy and The Apostle and the edgy anarchy of Kurt Vonnegut. 
The author works successfully with a modern, disjointed narrative line, using flashbacks and with-held information to maintain suspense, but at times this can be confusing. The plotline is also episodic (as you would expect from a kind of road movie book) but the whole effect works well and brings a redemptive moment at the end.
Get it. Read it. Tell others. 

  • http://profile.typekey.com/thesheepcat/ thesheepcat

    Father, Inside Catholic has a very lively discussion right now (53 comments so far) on Catholic fiction–what books various comboxers have liked, the merits of different approaches to the craft and business, and so forth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03892529674664589034 Jeff Miller

    I read and reviewed Danny Gospel last week and agree whole-heartidly with your comments. It is a wonderful novel.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07932082084523211319 Dee S.

    Great review of Danny Gospel. The book has been building buzz in the Christian reading community since last November. There are many new authors coming out the bible in Christian publishing, who are writing compelling contemporary fiction. W.Dale Cramer and T.L. Hines both Bethany House authors are great. Creston Mapes at Random House/Multnomah. The list is growing each year. Thanks so much for recognizing the difference and the need for better writing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14685970347404504083 Andrew Clarke

    I would be glad to hear your opinion of “Outcasts Of Skagaray” by Andrew Clarke. I take your point that some things are supposed to be good for Christians because they are Christian. Some Christian music (not all) gets a hearing only because it is Christian. But the novel named above has been read by Christian and non-Christian readers and has some good responses. Your comments would be valued. For excerpts please go to http://www.threeswans.com.au and see what you think.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07217936266957675449 Donna

    I agree on your take on the Father Elijah novels–and on Michael O’Brien’s other novels. He certainly understands the issues facing modern Christians, better than most I would say. But, his acumen as a novelist is inferior. How I wish that Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor were still alive and writing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17284905121465747077 Steve

    Father, I sensed maybe you had in mind the next Flannery O’Conner or Graham Greene. While he probably wouldn’t play in that league, Jon Hassler was a fine writer who brought his Catholic sensibilities to his novels, just about all of which are set in small towns in Minnesota. (Loyola Press has reissued two of Hassler’s novels, “North of Hope” and “Grand Opening,” as part of its Loyola Classics series. The reissue for “North of Hope” has a foreward by Amy Wellborn.) Sadly, Hassler died last month, but he leaves behind several fine novels that are by turns poignant, warm, and funny.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01379244511897838006 Marcus Aurelius

    Father, I’ll check out the book. While you’re pondering this topic, have you ever considered the Harry Potter novels and the conversion of the author that manifests itself rather strongly in the last book of the series?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06534825533948115912 Chad Toney

    Isn’t Bethany House one of the biggest publishers of popular anti-Catholic books? Has there been a change of management?And a big Head Nod to your comments about art and message.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17027978462507701844 J A F

    Chad,Yes, Bethany House is a leading publisher of anti-Catholic “non-fiction,” including several virulent books about our Blessed Virgin Mother.I could not support this publisher.John

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11255210610103542888 David A

    Bethany House is traditionally Protestant, and yet they’ve published quite a few Catholics, including St. Teresa and Thomas a Kempis, along with the great Anglican, Jane Austen. Baker (owner of Bethany House)is definitely building some bridges. Take a look at Brazos Press.Kind regards,David

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Yes, take a look at Brazos Press–especially a book they published by Dwight Longenecker and David Gustafson…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06018261810285893567 moconnor

    Just a quick correction, David’s, Jim’s, and my university is Palm Beach Atlantic University, a Protestant Evangelical institution that kindly countenances us Catholics in their midst. We even get to chant at our Newman chapel services!