One of the things I love about being a freelance writer and editor is that I get to read all sorts of things I otherwise wouldn’t. I’m currently working on a project for which the client recommended I read The Shack by William Paul Young. When I asked for it at the bookstore, the guy led me to the “Inspirational Fiction” section, which, suffice it to say, is not a part of the bookstore I’m especially familiar with.
The premise of the book: A guy goes into a shack in the woods and has a conversation with God. Again, based on that logline, this is a book I immediately return to the shelf. I might quietly mumble incredulity at the “7 million copies sold”, but ultimately it’s not antipathy, just lack of interest, that would have me moving on to find something else.
My client is really interested in emulating the style of The Shack, so I’ll be reading it multiple times, as well. And thinking back over the years, I can’t think of any books (excluding plays) that I’ve read more than once.
Everything you’ve read up until this point was written when I was about 3 or 4 chapters in. Because at the time, the book was wowing my socks off. On an icy morning, the narrator goes to pick up his mail and finds a note, signed “Papa” (the name their family affectionately calls God), inviting him to come to the shack. We then flash back to a fall vacation he took with his children, where his daughter was abducted. Tense, suspenseful. They track her down to this shack in the woods, where they find her torn and bloodied dress.
So then, back to present day, the note has tremendous weight, and he tries to decide what to do. He ultimately decides to go to the shack — armed, in case the note was written by his daughter’s abductor — and drives into the middle of nowhere in the snow.
So far so good, right? But then it turns weird. The snow melts, the birds start chirping, and all of a sudden the shack is transformed into a spring chalet, inhabited by a black woman who calls herself papa, a Middle Eastern man named Yeshua, and an Asian spirit.
So close, and yet so damn far. Forgive the pun.
The funny thing is, it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if this, the second act of the story, hadn’t been so . . . well, bad. In some ways it reminded me of Tuesdays with Morrie, in that the narrator is being told the philosophies of some mentor. Except this was so very contrived, much of the time it fell flat. Unlike in Tuesdays with Morrie, which followed a very clear progression, there was no real story, just a bunch of, “Time to talk to Jesus. Time to talk to Papa. Let’s go talk to Jesus again!” while the hero asks the same questions over and over and over again.
It picked up a bit toward the end, but by that point I had enough of a sour taste in my mouth that I just wasn’t willing to like the book.
Fortunately, when I talked to the client about it, the things that appealed to him had nothing to do with the story. So at least there’s that. But multiple reads, probably not.