Published by Realms, Lake Mary, FL
In this final post, I would like to touch on two things, Dellosso’s writing and the question of what makes Christian fiction, Christian.
The writing is average. Character development is key for any novel to be good. For me, none of the characters drew much empathy. Evoking empathy always goes back to how life-like the characters become in the imagination of the reader. If the reader lives out the character in his mind, the author has done his job well. Certainly, the success of that has a lot to do with the reader, but I think it has more to do with the writer. Granted, creating good characters is not easy and most of us have to work hard at it. I don’t think the characters in Darkness Follows rise much above those that are commonly found in Christian fiction today. My favorite example of good characterization is George Polivka’s Blaggard’s Moon. His is a high standard, and we would all do well to try and meet it. That doesn’t mean we emulate Polivka. But we should study him (and others who equally qualify) to see what factors and techniques he uses that make his characters so good, and strive to use them within the complex of our own personality, vocabulary, temperament, and style.
Having said that the characters drew little empathy from me, I confess that I liked Dellosso’s characters of Symon and his victims, the latter of whom (excluding the state trooper, Ned Coleman) were cameo appearances. Short-lived (no pun intended) but memorable. The fact that they were murdered didn’t elicit empathy because they weren’t around long enough. Even so, they were vivid and interesting.
One of the things all writers commonly make use of is simile. I find simile to be a good litmus of an author’s writing ability. Good writers use simile that fits the situation or mood without excessive verbiage. Bad writers don’t. Using appropriate simile is difficult. When done well, it is like the brushstroke that finishes the masterpiece. When not done well, it is like spinach topping on your least favorite ice cream. Darkness Follows has too much of the latter.
...his words trailed off like a column of smoke into a starless sky. (p 37)
...tickling Molly’s skin like insect legs. (p 50)
Questions, like day-old bug bites, nagged him. (p 57)
Those words rushed back from the past like a winter wind... (p 130)
His hands quivered like the last leaves of autumn buffeted by a stiff November wind. (p 166)
The bullet pierced Symon’s palm like an awl through leather... (p 260)
It’s not that these don’t give us a vivid picture, I think they do. But they just don’t fit and some are overstated. Words trailing off like a column of smoke is good, but the starless sky adds nothing and hampers the effect. Insect legs on Molly’s skin probably wouldn’t tickle, but they sure would draw a reaction. Day-old bug bites presumably itch, but how does itching carry the imagery of nagging. What is the connection between the sudden recollection of a conversation (real or imagined) and a winter wind? Leaves buffeted by a stiff November wind don’t quiver; they thrash about. A speeding bullet through a palm is nothing like the slow-pressured force that pushes an awl through leather.
To be fair, there were some fine examples of simile; here are two:
The line began to move like a segmented worm... (p 83)
A memory, like a gunshot, exploded in Symon’s mind... (p 83)
The question, What makes ‘Christian fiction,’ Christian? is a crucial one. As writers of Christian fiction, we want to get this right. For me, Christian fiction is not truly Christian unless it pointedly and clearly brings in the salient truths of the gospel. One may argue that such a definition is too narrow. Some would say that it should include any fiction written by Christians, predominately for Christians, and does not require a heavy emphasis on the gospel itself. Wholesome themes - love, faithfulness, kindness, graciousness, humility, forgiveness - essentially the fruits of the Spirit delineated by Paul in Galatians 5:22 are sufficient to mark the literary work as Christian. These themes are good, and they are Christian, but they are genuinely so only when they are understood in the light of the Gospel. Christ came to save sinners, not from hell primarily, but from their sins, which has implications not only for one’s eternal destiny, but also for this life. Christ saves his people from their sins, transforming them into a people who grieve over their sin, repent continuously, recognize the deceitfulness of their own sinful hearts, and in an ongoing manner, humbly seek the mercy and grace of the One who saves them that they may overcome worldliness and carnality. As overcomers, they manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Bringing these truths out is what qualifies a novel to be worthy of Christian classification.
This does not mean a Christian can’t write purely for entertainment. Nor does it mean that all the elements of the Christian faith must be treated with equal emphasis. As an image-bearer of God, writing good fiction, creating a world of fiction (reflecting God’s creativeness), even if there is no effort to include Gospel truths, is a worthy vocation, and one that honors God. But if it does not pointedly bring out the truths of the Gospel, let’s not call it Christian.
Darkness Follows is anemically Christian. It mentions the love of Jesus, but doesn’t tell the reader what that means. It provides a contrast between good and evil, but the most pagan of literary works does that because it is impossible to avoid. The Christian novel should show why it is unavoidable through a strong Gospel oriented story.
Dellosso’s novel is dark, and alarmingly so in several places. That in itself doesn’t disqualify it as Christian. What severely damages its qualification as Christian is that the Gospel is absent. Merely including Eva’s need to tell her daddy that Jesus loves him fails to qualify the novel as Christian. Stephen King could write a novel like that, but no one would think of it as Christian.
Many in the world and the professing Church have been told that Jesus loves them yet have none of the grace of God that transforms them from sinner to saint because they misunderstand what that love is. These do not see God’s love side by side with God’s holy hatred of them as sinners (Psalm 5:5) who are under divine condemnation and are powerless to do anything about it because they are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1). They don’t understand that their hope is not in any inherent goodness they think they have, nor in any value they think God sees in them. They don’t see that their only hope is in the atonement of Christ through which they may be saved from their sin and sinfulness. Without the clear, pointed presence of the Gospel in a novel, the novel is not Christian.
Mike Dellosso Website
Darkness Follows on Amazon
Thanks to Realms Publishing for kindly providing a copy of Darkness Follows for review on the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.