Monday, October 29, 2012

A Storyteller First

I recently read Broken by Travis Thrasher, his twelfth novel and what I think is likely his best yet. Broken is only the latest in a series of consistently well-done novels, ranging from love stories to thrillers/suspense stories. A few months prior to publishing Broken, he self-published Every Breath You Take as a kind of love letter to his daughter. And he’s published three of four novels in a series of Young Adult novels as well.

I’ve now read most of his published work. There’s not a bum story in the lot. Thrasher is always good, always entertaining and always thought-provoking, which isn’t what you usually get from terrifying suspense stories like Isolation or Ghostwriter or a love story collection like The Promise Remains. But he delivers more than a good story.

His heroes are flawed, sometimes seriously flawed, and his villains are totally evil (as a rule). In Broken, for example, Laila starts as almost unsympathetic, a character I was almost determined not to like, and then she changed and my attitude changed with her. She was flawed, yes, but more importantly, she was real.

Thrasher also explores subjects and themes you sometimes find in Christian fiction, but it’s still not typical, themes like mental illness, burned-out faith and loss of faith, dysfunctional families, prostitution, and abortion. Again, the emphasis here is on the real. He doesn’t exaggerate; instead, he creates characters and narratives that are recognizable to Christians even if we’re uncomfortable talking about them.

There’s often violence; people get shot and die; people are sometimes brutalized. With Thrasher, though, the violence isn’t gratuitous. It’s not meant to shock but instead to help tell the story.

And there are, in many of the his stories, elements of the supernatural – the ghosts of Broken and the evil spirits of Isolation, to cite two examples.

But are these “Christian” novels?

In some of his works, the Christian message is fairly explicit (Isolation and Broken, for example); it’s less so in stories like Ghostwriter and Sky Blue (still my personal favorite). But before I add more fuel to the ongoing debate about “Christian fiction,” I would say that thrasher is a storyteller first and foremost, a storyteller who happens to be a Christian and whose writing is undergirded by his faith but not suffocated by it. He doesn’t preach the gospel in his novels; he shows it, sometimes directly and sometimes implicitly.

These same themes can be found in his three Young Adult novels – Solitary (2010), Gravestone (2011), and Temptation (2012). The fourth and final book in the series, Hurt, is due out in January.

We can’t neatly categorize Thrasher as either a writer of Christian fiction or a novelist who happens to be a Christian (the usual way this discussion and debate goes). Instead, what we can say is this: he tells the story he has to tell, and in the process he makes the message of forgiveness and redemption all the more compelling.

This isn’t what we usually find in thrillers and suspense, even when they’re well written. But we find it in Travis Thrasher.

This post was originally published by The Christian Manifesto, but they revamped the site and the archive disappeared. So I’m occasionally reposting a few of the articles I wrote. This one has been modified to include his Solitary stories.

1 comment:

Louise Gallagher said...

Hmm... you keep doing this, intriguing me by writing great reviews.

Where oh where do I find the time to read it all!

where do you find the time!