Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Review of THE SHACK, by Wm. Paul Young

"Forgiveness isn't about is about letting go of another person's throat." - Papa

THE SHACK is a tome about the forgiveness and redemption of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, a father whose 6 year old daughter was abducted from a campsite and presumed dead. This causes a "Great Sadness" in Mack, which he struggles with for four years. He finally receives a cryptic note - apparently from God - inviting him for a weekend-long meeting. The meeting will take place at the shack...the same shack where Missy's bloodied dress was found four years ago.

I found this book to be striking, and not for my usual reasons.

To start with, I wasn't particularly fond of Mr. Young's writing style. I was jolted out of the story numerous times by Mack's squeaky-clean exclamations a la "Oh boys", "Wows", "Whoas" ( I half expected a 'gee-willerkers' in there). I've probably read too many Stephen King books, because I would have expected cursing instead. Some/most of the other characters (the mortal ones, anyway) are 2 dimensional at best. This bothered me at first - I enjoy understanding and getting into the mind of the characters, see what makes them tick. As I read, I realized that they were not really integral to the plot. This was Mack's story, from Mack's perspective. The entire book is either heading to or coming from the weekend meeting with God at the Shack. The rest of the cast are essentially placeholders to this end.

Also, there was an level of "preaching" in places where it was not needed. The redemptive nature story stands on its own merit. You could almost put "Author's note" in these places, again jolting me out of the story.

As a father, I was mightily disturbed by the disappearance of Missy. It was powerful. As we are following Mack's account (second-hand through his friend Willie), we don't see the abduction, we don't learn any details of what happened to her. We do share Mack's transition from unease, to concern to full blown panic to resignation and the ultimate despair as the search party finding his Missy's blood-soaked dress - but not Missy - at the Shack of the title.

Mack does meet with God- unlike any God I've ever imagined before, yet completely recognizable in a Christian context. I won't give it away, but there's no trace of the blond blue-eyed Christ we're all used to in Western art and literature.

I guess what intrigued me most about this yarn is that Mack's struggles and questions with God, his "wrestling with angels", mirror my own in many aspects. Particularly insightful was God's explantion of why suffering occurs; I'd never really seen the free-will argument in fiction before...especially set up as an actual argument!

In the end this book is essentially a parable about redemption, acceptance, closure, love, and trust in God. A message our world sorely needs these days.

Memorial of St. Joachim and St. Anne
Daily Mass Readings
Jeremiah 13:1-11
Deuteronomy 32:18-21
Matthew 13:31-35

1 comment:

  1. The opening quote from "Papa" drew my attention. I once heard a speaker say that forgiveness isn't so much for the good of the other person as it is for our own good. Even if (or maybe particularly if) the other person is unrepentant, they can go blithely on their way while we eat ourselves up inside.

    A couple of weeks ago, Masterpiece Theater showed an adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. I found it interesting that there were several references to Hercule Peroit's Catholicism, as if it were essential to understanding the story. And the murder was all about lack of forgiveness, based on an incident somewhat like the one in The Shack. The murder is carried out with an air of self-righteousness, with the belief that the victim not only deserves to die, but deserves to die with great suffering. When Poirot has figured out what happened, it seems to be expected that he'll agree that the murder was justified - but he vehemently doesn't. There's a statement that the victim "sinned against God" and Poirot responds, "Then let God deal with it." Following the usual meeting with all the suspects and the revelation of how the murder was carried out, we get one more reminder of Poirot's Catholicism, just in case we've forgotten.

    During the murder investigation, there's an interesting exchange with one of the suspects, who says to Poirot, "But the Catholics have it all wrong, don't they, with their penance and their forgiveness." Poirot responds by asking, "Because some sins cannot be forgiven?" and the suspect responds affirmatively. It's been so long since I've read the book that I don't remember if Christie put this (and other reminders that Poirot is Catholic) into the story or if it came from the screenplay writer, but I'd say whoever wrote it was quite insightful.

    I wrote a blog post on the program: