Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Review: Hallowed Halls

If I have a pet peeve about Christian fiction, it has to be that it so often uses story to hammer a message or preach a sermon. For some reason, this really rankles. I don't mind Christian fiction when the story carries a message, but when the message supersedes the story it bothers me. I am in full agreement with the message. It is not a matter of disagreeing with what is being presented. I simply cannot appreciate the idea that a writer sets out with an agenda and seeks a story to approach the goal.

Part of me feels ashamed of holding such a position. I mean, perhaps a non-believer really does come to Christian fiction and through the message conveyed finds the path to a real relationship with the Lord. But, another part of me says a non-Christian is probably going to feel manipulated by the anvil of the message. Do non-Christians even pick up Christian fiction? Do they set it down the minute they get to a passage which waxes moralistic and preachy?

Because the cover of Hannah Alexander's novel, Hallowed Halls, bears the label of a "Jerry B. Jenkins Select Book" and pegs Alexander as a "Christy Award Winning Author," I went in knowing it would be inspirational Christian fiction. The pitch on the back cover highlighted the key story hooks to rope me in. The story follows a tempestuous period in the life of a female doctor. Dr. Joy Gilbert has just been fired from her job and is headed for her hometown to check on her ailing mother, when her boss's daughter emerges from hiding in the back of her car. Further complicating matters, Joy bumps into her ex-fiance who never really quite explained why he called off the wedding. This was a sufficient teaser to pull me in. In fact, I picked up this book to read before selecting ones which are coming due soon.

The story didn't disappoint. The characters were well-drawn and believable. The conflicts were palpable and pressing. The plot kept things moving at a reasonable pace. By all counts, this was a story worth telling. I simply believe it could have been told with the story remaining in the foreground and the message subtly ringing out in the background. Sadly, the urge to proselytize overpowered the storytelling. Moreover, the images used (especially that of the vintner pruning the vines) felt cliche. The message came through loud and clear - "times of trial are simply methods God employs to bring forth greater fruit and maturity" and "you cannot judge Christianity by the hypocritical Christians you might come in contact with." Again, while I don't disagree with the message, I want the story to more subtly convey the message instead of paragraphs full of truth-telling.

If you enjoy Christian fiction and are not bothered in the slightest by use of a gavel, you will probably find this to be excellent Christian fiction. The writing is good. The characters learn and grow and redeem their disappointments. No doubt, you will find this story entirely uplifting and enjoyable. You might even want to continue with the series to find out what happens in the future with Dr. Joy Gilbert (the author is at work on a third book at this point). So, don't let my own pet-peeves hold you back, if Christian fiction is your thing. I enjoyed the story, as well. I just would have toned down the moralizing.


Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader said...

That's my big issue with "Christian fiction." Like you, it's not that I object to the message, but I don't like it taking over the story and feeling like it's being wedged into any and every situation where it can possibly go. It feels forced and pushy and I can't imagine it appealing to any nonbeliever.

I like it when it's woven into the story well, and becomes a part of the story, in a natural way.

Wendy said...

I'm so glad you agree. I was feeling really bad about writing negative comments for a good Christian writer, but did want to be honest about my impressions.

Wendy said...
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