Sometimes, it is hard to explain exactly what creates the buzz that sends an unknown book or author into the bestseller lists. A few months ago, I did not even know that this book was out there. But recently, a lot people I meet have been raving about it, so I though I would give it a read.
Although I am not religious, I decided to approach the book in an objective and open-minded way to find out what appeal it had for religious people. First of all, the book has a very interesting and thought-provoking premise. In the beginning of the book, a man named MacKenzie Phillips goes camping with his children. One of the children is kidnapped and murdered. After this incident, Mack’s life undergoes a number of changes. Understandably, he suffers from overwhelming grief, and his marriage struggles to survive. But chiefly, the book concentrates on the way Mack’s relationship with god is affected by the unfortunate incident. One wintry day, as the story progresses, Mack finds a mysterious note in his mailbox. The note, purporting to be from God, urges him to return to the woods, to the shack where his dead daughter’s bloodstains were found.
Mack revisits the shack and is haunted by memories of the incident that changed his life. There, he encounters God. This is the best and most intriguing part of the book. The god that Young presents to us through this book is not exactly the God of scripture and Sunday school. Young’s descriptions of God is often controversial and startling. Yet, Young remains faithful to the true spirit of God’s grace and love as portrayed in scripture. Far from being a shock-value book, Young’s narrative really makes you think about life, faith and hope.
The main criticism that I have heard about this book, is that there is little in it that is theologically accurate. But I feel that most of Mack’s encounters with God can easily be expressed in terms of biblical ideas such as grace, redemption, forgiveness and propitiation. Of course, there were many parts of the book where I disagreed with the author, but on the whole, Young’s (successful) attempt to stay away from the well-trodden road of trite religion must be applauded. Young truly breathes life and vibrancy into the words spoken by God in this book.
It would be useless to claim that this is a particularly well-crafted novel or that it stands out in any way for the power and beauty of its language. In fact, it can be argued that the premise of the book might have been explored even more thoroughly in a work of non-fiction. But that would have made this a dry theological treatise rather than an engaging novel that has touched the masses. Presenting the serious ideas contained in this book within the context of a remarkable and touchingly human story is he author’s masterstroke. And that is the reason why I think this book will continue to be talked about for years to come.