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.
Here’s the link to buy