For it is by grace you have been saved...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Book Review: The Unseen (a novel)

First, a confession. I read novels. I know it’s a waste of time. I know I should spend my time reading more theology books, more great classics, more “useful” stuff. But I enjoy getting lost in a really good story. Helps take my mind of the stresses and strains of day to day life, ministry, etc.

And while I’ve read the odd “secular” book here and there, for the most part I’ve limited myself to the “Christian market.” Maybe it helps me feel less guilty to say I’m reading a “Christian” novel. Maybe it’s just because I can’t stand the garbage that’s usually added into the non-Christian stuff.

Anyway, I jumped at the chance to make my second review for Thomas Nelson a fiction review. After my less than glowing comments about the first book I looked at, I was hoping this would be a nice change. Well, I have some good news and some bad news.

First, the good news. T. L. Hines’ The Unseen is a good read. Hines’ self-described “noire bizarre” has already found success in two previous novels, and I think I enjoyed this one better than those first two (especially once you get past the “bizarre” part). In spite of his obvious flaws, I found myself sympathetic to the main character, Lucas. Many of his inner struggles are common to us all, and there is some good insight into the nature of temptation and the “Dark Vibrations” that pulsate within us.

At some points, the many twists and turns of the story get a little hard to follow; and one or two twists seem a bit too random. But for the most part things are tied up well in the end. As a lover of mystery/suspense, I can say that my interest was definitely held and it kept me turning the pages at a pretty quick pace. All in all, as I said, a good read.

Now for the bad. I’m drawn again to the question I had in reviewing The Truth About You. What is it that makes this a “Christian” book? There is the aforementioned delving into the depraved temptations we face, but there is no solution offered. There is nothing distinctly “Christian” about this book. There is a brief mention of Lucas being in danger of losing his soul, but again, there is no solution given. He seems to come back from that precipice, but there is no Christ, no God, no biblical means for him to do so. Maybe it’s just a little too subtle for me. Maybe it’s just about God fixing our “brokenness.” But it would have been nice to see that made more plain.

Again, I enjoyed the book. It was a good story, well written, well-crafted. And not everything under a “Christian” label has to be an in-your-face Evangelistic Tract. But if we feel the need to have Christian Publishers, it seems that the things produced there should have a more Christian flare. This book could just as easily have been published by any secular label.

So if you’re just looking for a good suspense novel, with a few very odd twists, grab up The Unseen and “waste” a few enjoyable hours. But if you’re hoping to find some real biblical hope in the midst of the “noire,” then you will be disappointed.


Applied Christianity said...

The last Thomas Nelson book I reviewed was just like that. Not anti-God but not Christian either. I gave it a similar review. My next one is the New Testament on MP3.

Sara J. Henry said...

I've been trying to find out just constitutes Christian fiction (I also reviewed "The Unseen" for Thomas Nelson) and even posted the question on my blog, but no answers yet.

Scott said...

I hope someone gives you an answer. As I said, I don't think we have to be "preachy" but it seems to me that if something is to be called "Christian" it should have an obvious Christian worldview.

I'm waiting for the MP3 CD myself. I look forward to reading your comments.

TL Hines said...

Hi, Scott - First, a confession: I read novels too. Lots of them. So you're just fine on my scale.

You ask an important, oft-debated question: what constitutes a "Christian" novel? A "Christian" anything, for that matter? Does it need to be evangelical in nature, or is it enough to simply be written by someone with a Christian worldview?

I don't know if there's an objective answer to those questions--only subjective ones, meaning they'll be different for each person you ask. I think many people think "Christian" automatically means "Evangelical," but I wouldn't count myself among them. I'll be the first to admit I don't present a specific salvation message in my stories...and part of the reason I do that is precisely because that's what people expect.

I want to write books that are unexpected and surprising. A bizarre story, sure. Some unexpected twists and turns. And ultimately, a redemptive tale without some of the expected Christian motifs.

So when a Christian reader has a friend who says, "I won't read Christian fiction, because it's just: (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH WHATEVER COMPLAINT)," I hope a few people might think of my books and say, "I have a book that might surprise you."

Again, my books don't have a specific salvation message, but I think (I hope) they offer spring boards for discussion. What kind of character is Lucas, living a life of isolation? What is he missing? How does making connections with other people change him? (Well, heck, there are discussion questions in the back of the book--you can see them.)

I hope, then, that my books can be used to stimulate deeper discussions...but again, I don't think they HAVE to. Maybe folks just want to focus on the plot, or the style, or whatever; that's okay, too, because it means people are at least talking, sharing, establishing know, the kinds of things Lucas himself has to learn how to do.

For me, being a Christian means being part of a larger community--and not just a community of Christians (even if Christians are my primary audience).

I had a rather lengthy, similar conversation with another blogger, and she printed some of my long-winded responses on her blog, if you're interested in reading them:

In any case, thanks for reading...and thanks for thinking as you read.

Scott said...

Mr. Hines,
I am indeed humbled that you would take time to read my little ramblings. I appreciate you taking the time to offer a response. And in part I do agree. As I said in the review "not everything under a “Christian” label has to be an in-your-face Evangelistic Tract." I thnk discussion starters are good.

My issues is simply one of worldview. If we are going to have publishers who claim to be distinctly "Christian" then what they produce should reflect a distinctly Christian worldview. If not, then why bother with the label to begin with? Why not just be a publisher, period?

This has nothing to do with the book, per se. As I said, I enjoyed it. And again, I really don't like novels that are just window dressing for a sappy altar call. But if we're promoting something as Christian, there ought to be something different, somehow, that distinguishes it from a non-Christian publisher. Just as not all Christian music has to have in your face lyrics, but it ought to refelct a distinct worldview that is different from what is offered in the secular market.

I admit that much of this comes from having reviewed the other Nelson book first, and got me on this "what is a Christian publisher?" bent.

Anyway. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and even more for the thoughtful response. In spite of all of this discussion, I'm looking forward to the next book!

Scott said...

Mr Hines,
And by the way, I enjoyed the discussion you refer to, and it does help me gain a bit of insight. Maybe I'm just not cerebral enough to find those "redeeming" qualities (pardon the pun). Thanks again.

(You know, my English Lit prof in college would be disappointed with my lack of intuitiveness!)

TL Hines said...

Hi, Scott - As you mention above, I don't think we're very far apart on where we stand with these things. (And even if we were, what of it? Healthy, encouraging debate is a good thing.) The questions of Christian publishers, Christian authors and Christian tales are all important ones, and probably ever-changing.

Sometimes I suppose I'm too subtle. Sometimes, I suppose I'm too on-the-head. I guess as long as I'm not boring, I feel like I'm doing okay.

And whatever your English Lit prof might think, I'm glad you're reading. :)

Scott said...

Mr. Hines,

Boring is certainly not a problem! And you're doing more than ok. As I said, I'm certainly looking forward to the next book. (And if you're looking for a over-critical character for your next book, well... Maybe I'll just sign up on the web page)