By Wm. Paul Young
FaithWords, 304 pages, $28
The Shack is definitely a tough act to follow. But five years later, Alberta-born but Oregon-based author Wm. Paul Young has now released his second Christian novel, Cross Roads. It is similarly thought-provoking and imaginative.
While much of The Shack flows from the brutal and mysterious murder of Mack's youngest daughter, Cross Roads is much less macabre, concerning itself instead with how the choices we make affect others throughout their lives.
The main character, Anthony Spencer, is a wealthy and successful businessman in his mid-40s. The bigger picture is that Tony is selfish, ruthless, and manipulative, placing value on people only if they happen to benefit him financially.
Married twice to the same woman and having psychologically crushed her in their first divorce, he woos, marries and divorces her again so he can destroy her financially as well. The price he pays for his cutthroat mentality is the loss of his only daughter.
But Tony, the reader learns, is a broken person too, because of the loss of too many loved ones earlier in his life. In response, he built walls, shut people out and honed the ability to "hide knives inside words."
When he falls into a coma, he finds himself on a journey, soon arriving at a crossroads of sorts, where he is forced to see the wreckage of his life and the consequences of his choices.
Much of the story, told in the third person, takes place in an "in-between-time-place," somewhere between "life-before and life-after." It is represented by a dilapidated old ranch house set in ugly and rapidly deteriorating surroundings. Tony thinks the place is a scrap heap of rubbish and his eyes are opened when he learns its true nature.
It is in this in-between world that Tony meets Irishman Jack, whose character is obviously modelled on the Christian author C.S. Lewis, one of Young's influences. And it is here that he meets Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God and engages in spiritual conversations with them in much the same way that Mack does in The Shack.
These are difficult chapters to read, because they often are bogged down with too much explanation, description and instruction and little else. The prose, especially during these conversations, seems awkward but it flows better elsewhere.
It is not until a third of the way through that things liven up. Sent back to Earth, Tony finds himself stuck inside the body of an exuberant and loving African-American woman, with sometimes hilarious consequences.
He is also placed into the heart and mind of an affectionate 16-year-old boy with Down syndrome.
In both novels, the main characters find themselves on a journey through forgiveness, Mack who eventually comes to forgive his daughter's murderer and Tony who learns how to forgive himself. As well, both characters come to an understanding of the nature of God's love.
Much of Young's spirituality is outside the box. In Cross Roads, the depiction of the Christian Trinity is just as unconventional as it is in The Shack. Jesus is pictured in jeans, the Holy Spirit is depicted as a native-American Lakota woman who cooks and God is clothed in the imagery of a young girl.
Originally a self-published title by an unknown author, The Shack became a phenomenon, selling 18 million copies to date.
Those who liked The Shack will likely find Cross Roads just as inspiring, though some may find the unorthodox depictions too controversial. Others will be attracted to Young's message of God's love, realizing that it is simply cloaked in fiction.
Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg writer.