Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Faith And Filth In Fiction

The Lord keeps working in mysterious ways, meaning that despite my review of Shelley Shepard Gray’s Christian-inspirational novel ‘Hidden’ last year, Avon Inspire, an imprint of Harper Collins, continues to dubiously honour me with its publications. The latest two arrivals are by Lori Copeland, who in 1995 “sensed that God was calling her to use her gift of writing to honour Him”. This is how I came to own a promotional copy of ‘Twice Loved’, whose front cover posits the question: Will Willow sacrifice her future security for a chance at true love?

In ‘Hidden’, I did indeed find much that was hidden – namely, sex, dressed up as inspirational fiction. I opened a random page of ‘Twice Loved’ (page 119, for those of you who want to jump to the saucy bits) and discovered much the same. “I believe the Gray boys sing well enough, the judge said. But when the new organ arrives, the service will improve enormously.” I say! And further down the same page, a character called Silas announces, “Best beef I’ve had in months.” Uncle Wallace responds, “Wait until you taste the fudge cake.” You can feel the homo-sensuality oozing off the page as these nineteenth century ‘gentlemen’ discuss supposedly mundane matters.

Thinly veiled eroticism aside, let’s cut to the plot. The Civil War’s just finished, and Silas, the bloke who likes a portion of good beef, is beyond middle age, well off, and wooing Willow, the new 19-year-old school teacher at Thunder Ridge, Texas, who’s rolled into town after being advised of his availability, accidentally setting fire to the town saw mill on the day of her arrival. (It happens. And according to the narrative, the fire would “later be compared to the Second Coming” – how much later I’m not sure, given that according to a quick search on Google News, the Second Coming still hasn’t come).

So anyway, Willow thinks that hooking up with beefy Silas would be okay, because she’d have no money worries, and her mates Copper and Audrey, who’ve come along too, would be provided for. End of story, materially happy ever after. But wait, inspirational fiction fans, there’s another character who’s not middle-aged and wealthy, he’s young and dashing and called Tucker (yes, he really is). He owns the saw mill that the heroine reduced to ashes, and he makes Willow weep with his “impossibly good looks and headstrong manner”.

I won’t keep you in suspense any more than I kept myself in suspense (spoiler alert here for all you Lori Copeland addicts), so let’s once again make a beeline for the book’s final page. “Lunging, Tucker seized Willow by the waist and took her with him into the ditch.” You dirty Tucker! “For the first time in a long time, Thunder Ridge was wet.” And the final paragraph begins, “A grin split Willow’s features.” Silas, in case you’re worried about the old fella, cops off with Copper instead.

Having merely perused the text, it seems only fair to tackle some of the 12 questions that the author asks at the end of the book, as though conducting a Sunday school class for a particularly backward group of under-5s. “It seldom rains in Thunder Ridge – just thunder and lightning. Still, the townspeople won’t move away. They prefer to stay and trust in God to send rain. Have you ever been in a position where all you could do was pray and trust? Did God come through for you?”

I wonder what Ms Copeland’s answer is for those who prayed and trusted, but ended up drowning, or shot, or crashing, or uncured anyway. That they didn’t trust and pray hard enough? It’s nice in fiction when God comes through for the characters, but what’s the explanation when prayer doesn’t work in real life? That God likes some of us better than others? Is the entity that created our world and our universe and, I suppose, all the elliptical galaxies and spiral galaxies and irregular galaxies too, is he answering prayers based on some arbitrary code of judgment we have to guess at according to those he chooses to “come through” for? Blimey, it’s enough to make you keep your hands off the fudge cake just in case God disapproves and holds it against you when your plane’s going down and you’re praying and trusting that he’s going to step in and fix the engines.