Friday, May 22, 2015

Jill Case Brown’s “Safe”


Bank (short for Bancroft) Jonsson is your rather typical high school sophomore. He’s tall – six foot four – and but not coordinated (or interested) enough to play basketball. He’s interested in girls but tends to get clumsy around them. He’s just gotten his driver’s license. And his best friend has just moved from their small Oklahoma town to Minnesota, and Bank is feeling the separation.

Oh, and his mother, Meredith, has distributed (or dissociative) identify disorder, meaning her body is occupied by numerous personalities. If you’ve seen the 1957 movie The Three Faces of Eve with Joanne Woodward or the 1976 movie Sybil with Sally Fields,  you’ll know what DID is. It’s a difficult disorder, not the least of which for the fact a cure is not known. Patients can be cured, but there’s no set path for that to happen.

Bank, a normal teenager living not quite the normal teenager’s life.  He’s become rather expert at identifying which personality has emerged at any given time. He also recognizes that new student at his high school has DID.

Jill Case Brown’s young adult novel Safe is the story of Bank, his family, and his friends. Brown tells a fine story, a story that respects both its teenage characters and the teenagers who will read it. I stayed wrapped up with the book almost start to finish; it was that difficult to put down.

What happens is that none of Bank’s friends really understand what DID is, and that leads to a succession of events that are life-threatening. Bank becomes the target of misunderstanding and meanness by one of his former friends. And his schoolmates turn against him.

Brown catches the scene and substance of life in a high school just right, with all of the emotional highs and lows (often at the same time), hopes, dreams and fears common to any high school experience.

For Bank, though, the experience is anything but common. Brown gets the reader inside his head, and inside his heart.

Safe is simply a wonderful story.


Illustration: "Dissociative identity disorder" by 04Mukti. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mike Duran’s “Christian Horror”


Christian publishing is uncomfortable with certain fiction genres, what’s generally called “speculative” but includes science fiction, paranormal, and horror. And yet some of the most successful speculative writers, like Stephen King, acknowledge the presence of Biblical imagery throughout many of their works.

For a number of years, Mike Duran, author of a number of Christian horror story collections and novels, has written about Christian publisher’s reluctance to embrace anything in speculative fiction. Publishers know their audiences, however, and is to the audiences that Duran now turns his attention. Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre makes a solid case why Christian readers’ attitudes toward the horror genre is misguided and possibly dangerous.

Duran has written an apologetic for the horror genre in Christian fiction, and it’s an impressive piece of work. And he lays claim for horror some of the most famous works in Western literature.

“Many have suggested,” he writes, “that the epic poem Beowulf is one of the earliest horror stories ever written. Possibly the oldest surviving long form in Old English, Beowulf is often cited as one of the most important works of Old English literature. Though the story is in essence a pagan myth, most believe it was originally written down by a Christian monk who incorporated Christian elements into the text.”

He doesn’t stop with Beowulf. He also makes a convincing case for Christian elements being incorporated into Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,  H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man and especially Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a work in which there is nothing subtle about Christian influence. And then there is the Bible itself, filled with any number of horrific stories.

Mike Duran
Duran examines religious themes in horror and horror themes in religion; how the evangelical culture has in general responded to the horror genre; what he terms “toward an apologetic” for Christian horror; and the main objections Christians voice against horror and similar genres.

I don’t ready much in the horror genre, but I’ve read books by Duran, Mike Dellosso, and T.L. Hines, among others, and I have found the quality of the writing and stories to be at least equivalent to if not considerably better than much of what’s published in mainstream Christian fiction.

And Duran is right: it doesn’t always have to be an Amish romance.

Related:

My reviews of Duran’s Subterranea and The Resurrection.


Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Elizabeth George’s “Just One Evil Act”


It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, unread, this book by mystery writer Elizabeth George. I know why it’s been sitting – a book of 723 pages requires serious commitment. It was a gift from my wife, who knew I liked the Inspector Lynley mysteries.

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled it from the shelf, and began to read, hoping that I wouldn’t like it so I could put it back on the shelf. The story of Just One Evil Act begins with a women’s roller derby in London, of all things. I wasn’t hooked from the first page; the first few pages are about a potential new love interest for Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, an earl of the realm who happens to work for Scotland Yard. His wife Helen had been rather senselessly killed in a previous novel (and I still don’t think I’ve forgiven the author for that).

By page 15, however, when Lynley finally returns a frantic phone call from his erstwhile Scotland Yard partner Sergeant Barbara Havers, I’m fully pulled into the story, and ready to tackle another 708 pages.

Barbara’s good friend and neighbor Taymullah Azhar is desperate – his daughter Hadiyyah has been taken – kidnapped – by her mother Angelina. Azhar had returned from work at a London university microbiology lab to find his daughter and her mother gone, Hadiyyah’s room stripped clean. Azhar had never married Angelina; in fact, he had left his wife and family to live with her. His daughter is his world and his family, and now she’s disappeared.

This begins a story that moves constantly between London and Lucca, Italy; between the police investigations in both countries; between private detectives in both countries; and between a multitude of related side stories and a relatively large cast of characters. It is a feat to pull all of this off in one coherent mystery, but George does it, and does it incredibly well. It would have been an easy book to lose the reader’s way in, but it never happens; it’s that well-written of a story.

Elizabeth George (and friend)
The mother’s kidnapping of Hadiyyah goes somewhat awry when the girl is really kidnapped in one of Lucca’s open-air markets; the strong passions on all sides eventually results in a murder. The Italian policeman Salvatore LoBianco, a somewhat Italian counterpoint to Lynley, manages to continue a competent investigation in spite of an ogre of a boss who’s more concerned with the political than the criminal. Their characters and relationship is a good example of how well George creates and develops characters.

What makes the story even more compelling is watching Barbara Havers spin herself into a deeper and deeper hole, almost determined to break every written and unwritten rule in helping Azhar. She leaks to a tabloid reporter; she hides what she’s doing; she lies, even to Lynley. You read with increasing anxiety as her career is headed for what looks to be the inevitable crackup.

Any other who can keep a reader going for more than 700 pages knows how to tell a good story. Just One Evil Act is just possibly Elizabeth George’s best mystery novel to date, and that should be taken as a high compliment.


Photograph of Lucca, Italy, via the European Network for Accessible Tourism.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poetic Voices: Allison Carter and Maggie Smith


Allison Carter explores echoes and space, calling them ghosts, while poet Maggie Smith creates fables for contemporary readers.

In her latest poetry collection Here Versus Elsewhere, Allison Carter tackles the idea of ghosts, not in the conventional understanding but in the sense of echoes of spaces or white space, the ghosts of what has happened that continue to shape the experience of the here and now.

Experimenting with both length (some long, some short) and form (one is entirely prose poems), Carter explores these ghosts of sound and shape in 49 poems. One example is “Intimacy, These Days,” and watch how her effective use of repetition creates  echoes.


To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Great Von Harnack, Prophecy and Daniel


I was reading Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism by John Lennox this week, and a reference to the so-called “higher critics” and what they believed about the date Daniel was written sent me back 30 years to a classroom at Washington University in St. Louis.

In the 1980s, when I was in my masters degree program, I took a seminar called “History of the Early Christian Church.” It was taught by a partially retired professor (he had “emeritus” in his title) who had something of a reputation for unfeeling toughness. He seemed courteous enough, at least during the first few meetings for the 10 of us in the seminar.

The crunch came when we had to read and defend our first papers. One young woman was selected to go first, and her paper reflected the fact that she had hurriedly put something together the night before. The professor’s withering, relentless criticism reduced her to tears. She fled the classroom. Without missing a beat, he turned to the next student to present and defend, who happened to be me.

There was nothing else to do but to do it.

Adolf von Harnack
I even remember the subject of my paper – the origin of the office of “bishop” (episkopos in Greek). I had done a huge amount of research, surviving several sneezing attacks in the old Classics section of the university library. In my paper, I argued that while it had appeared early in the church, the office of bishop didn’t exist in apostolic times, or at least for the first 125 to 150 years of the church.

The professor believed otherwise. He peppered my reading with questions. I answered. More questions, and more answers. At one point, I thought my ship was clearly sinking, when he quoted the church historian and theologian Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), one of the leading lights of the so-called German “higher criticism” of the Bible in the 19th and early 20th centuries. My professor invoked von Harnack on a regular basis; he always, always referred to him as “the great von Harnack.”

This went on for the rest of the two hours of the seminar meeting. In spite of several references to the great von Harnack, I kept punching back. My fellow students were clearly relieved that they had won a few days reprieve before they had to present; they were also somewhat aghast that I had dared to suggest, even indirectly, that the great von Harnack might not be entirely correct.

What was even more surprising was the professor’s overall reaction. He was clearly more than pleased with my paper. He stopped me after class and asked where I done my research, how long had I worked on it, and how had I come to be so interested in the subject of episkopos.

Two weeks later, when he returned all of our papers with his grades, he wrote on mine that he still believed von Harnack was correct. But he gave my paper an A+.

I’m not sure what von Harnack thought of the Book of Daniel; his focus was the New Testament and the early church period. But the higher critics in general rejected the traditional dating for the book, and maintained it had to have been written during the early period of Rome’s occupation of Palestine and not during the period of the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires. Their reasoning was based on the assumption that Daniel recounted and interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream by predicting a succession of empires, and there was no way he could have been that accurate in his predictions. Clearly the book had to have been written after the fact.

The higher critics rejected supernatural intervention, miracles, and prophecy in general; von Harnack, for example, entirely rejected the miracles of Jesus. If it couldn’t be explained by natural, historical methods, then it simply couldn’t happen the way the Bible recorded it.

As John Lennox explains in Against the Flow, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls knocked a hole in the higher critics’ date for the writing of Daniel. The book was found among the scrolls, accepted and venerated as Holy Scripture. Had it been written only 50 years before the Qumran community existed, it would not have been accorded this recognition. Clearly, it had been around for a lot longer.

We’re still living within the context of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (you can read the entire account of the dream and its interpretation in Daniel 2). And if you ever wondered where the expression “feet of clay” comes from, this is where you’ll find it.


I’ve been discussing Against the Flow for the past several weeks. Today’s based is taken from Chapter 9, “Dreams and Revelations,” and Chapter 10, “A Succession of Empires.”


Painting: Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream by Mattia Preti (undated; Preti lived from 1613 to 1699); private collection.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Groans


After Romans 8:18-25

The groans we hear
the trees, the rocks,
the mountains, plains,
oceans all in chorus groan
in expectation in hope
the hope for the not seen
for the already not yet
the groaning and hope
fusing in the river
of anticipation, groaning
louder growing louder
to break free
the river to break free
of what has dammed it
of what it cannot overcome
until its time


Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saturday Good Reads


David Murray at Writing Boots has good work advice for all of us. Elizabeth Dark Wiley visits Tomorrowland, and discovers something different than tomorrow. One of the great sages of writing, William Zinsser, died at 92. Margaret Feinberg describes how cancer changed the way she reads the Bible. And Kristen Powers at Christianity Today describes the rise of the intolerant left.

Good stuff, thoughtful stuff, and stuff that’s both encouraging and worrisome. And who knew the actor Anthony Hopkins composed music?

Writing

The Lost Map of Ideas – Matthew Pearl for Strand Magazine.

A Character Story – S.D. Smith at The Rabbit Room.



Becoming Mindful in Place – poet and writer Chris Yokel is teaching a writers workshop sponsored by Tweetspeak Poetry, June 1 – August 23.

Work

The Quotable Agency Executive – David Murray at Writing Boots.

Poetry

Now You Are Ready – John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

1963 – Glen Armstrong at Curator Magazine.

Family

The Most Important Thing I Can Give My Son – Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

Culture and Society

Forgetting Tomorrow – Elizabeth Dark Wiley at Curator Magazine.

The Table and the Altar – Heidi Johnston at The Rabbit Room.


The Rise of the Intolerant Left – Kristen Powers at Christianity Today. And Rod Dreher responds: Benedictines, Not Fundamentalists.

Christian Radicals – Seeing to the Roots – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

Faith

The Disparity of Honey and Rocks – Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact

The Gain of Losing – Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.



Photography

A luminous balance – Diane Walker at Contemplative Photography.

Fancy Pants – Your Shot at National Geographic by Tim Good.

Fun, and Beautiful, Too

Andre Rieu conducts his Johann Strauss Orchestra in Maastricht in playing “And the Waltz Goes On,” composed 50 years ago by Sir Anthony Hopkins, who’s in the audience. It was the first time Hopkins heard the music performed (Hat tip to Janet Young for finding this).



Painting: Landscape from a Dream, oil on canvas by Paul Nash, 1936-38; Tate Britain, London.