Monday, October 17, 2011
Book Review: A Soft Place to Land
Sadly, this was another book that really irked me. I had noticed it in Target one day and was impressed that it held an endorsement by Kathryn Stockett (author of The Help) on the enticing front cover. She called it "a beautiful story of the complicated love between two sisters," and declared it to be the next pick for book clubs.
I, for one, am glad I didn't suggest it for my own book club. I have two primary complaints. The first is that the book practically beat me over the head with its disdain for Christianity and those who call themselves "Christians." Of course, what is presented as "Christian" is the demonized, ultra-conservative, self-righteous, harmful individual who stifles all the good in others by attacking them with legalese and condemnation.
I cannot abide Christian fiction that spends too much time proselytizing and not enough time focusing on the story behind the message. This book, took the opposite extreme. Page after page was dedicated (interrupting the story, in my opinion) to blasting Christianity. The author must have had some kind of horrible experience at the hands of a self-professed Christian to have built up the kind of rage that comes out in this book.
My second complaint is that the story held great promise, but didn't deliver all that it could have. The premise itself was truly thought-provoking: what if a set of parents died, leaving behind two half-sisters who are shipped to two different locations and lives? Perhaps, the focus on making those lives as opposite and extreme as possible sidetracked the author from the true wealth available for exploration in the relationship between the two siblings. It seemed like far more time was spent on explaining the diverse lifestyles of their separate guardians than on exploring the internal conflict each sister must have experienced.
Naomi and Phil Harrison perish in an airplane accident. Their will stipulates that the older daughter, Julia, go to live with her biological father (the ultra-fundamentalist Christian environment), while the younger daughter, Ruthie, is sent to live with her father's sister and husband (an enlightened, easy-going couple who provide a wealth of opportunities and healthy stimulation for Ruthie). The two sisters must struggle through the arrangement (Ruthie with guilt over receiving the "better" deal and Julia with anger over receiving the "worst-possible" deal).
The mother, Naomi, is lauded over and over again for her strength and bravery in leaving her first husband (whose great transgression was that he never said "no" to Naomi, but, in his goodness, would allow her to do anything she wanted). Her action of divorcing her first husband and returning to her first love (who also ended up divorcing his spouse in order to join with Naomi) is viewed as heroic. In my opinion, it is far more heroic, and demands greater strength and bravery, to stand by a marriage commitment and work through, tooth and nail, differences and difficulties than it is to follow the whims of the heart.
While the writing itself was very good and kept me reading clear to the end, I cannot say that the telling of this particular story provided "a soft place (for me) to land." Come to think of it, neither character in the story ended up with a soft place to land either. Sad, really. Even the most difficult of situations can provide a glimmer of redemption, but I didn't find much redemption in this story.