I bought a paperback from Borders’ “new paperbacks” table the other day. Not an unusual occurrence, except that I didn’t know either the book or the author. The cover and title – Comes a Horseman – looked intriguing, and a quick glance at the reviews looked promising, in spite of the fact it was the author’s first published novel. It promised violence, intrigue, and other stuff that I enjoy (at the moment I’m totally into escapism). So, needing something new to read, I took a brave step and chose this over more well-known authors.
Somewhere in the first few chapters, I began to get a bit suspicious, especially when a hard-nosed cop at the scene of a gruesome murder swears by saying, “Judas Priest.” Okay, you know as well as I do that no one says that. The plot seemed interesting, however, so I continued reading. Then the main characters – 2 FBI agents – seemed too soft and emotionally immature to be FBI agents investigating a series of beheadings.
Eventually, I went back to the several pages of endorsements at the beginning of the book, and found several were from obviously Christian sources, then discovered that the publisher was a “front” for a major Christian publishing house, Thomas Nelson. I felt ripped off, deceived. I would never have bought the book had I known it was an undercover piece of “Christian” fiction. Why do I feel this way? Shouldn’t I have been thrilled to find a good book written by a Christian? Shouldn’t I have been relieved to find that I wouldn’t have to censor language and ideas as I read?
The problem is, I love good Christian writing. I love writing that presents new ideas, challenges old ones, and engages not only your mind and emotions, but also your spirit. The problem is, most “Christian” fiction doesn’t do that. Most fail miserably at being either “Christian” or entertaining. There are a few exceptions, and some Christian authors have found success in the secular market. And, some overtly Christian writing does succeed – CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a perfect example. But where are all of the C.S. Lewises today?
Christian authors trying to just write fiction for Christian market tend to have some common flaws. One is that they are so steeped in the namby-pamby Christian Ghetto that they don’t understand the non-ghetto world, and are writing for a ghetto audience that shares this trait. As a result the non-Christian characters turn out flat. In fact, both the bad guys and the good guys turn out cartoony.
Another common flaw is they can’t even present Christians in a believable way. They are afraid (or perhaps conditioned) to ignore the fact that Christians have real emotions and issues. No one lusts, they just kind of like each other. It’s like reading Archie comic books. And, nearly all “Christian” characters seem completely uncomfortable being Christians, even in their fictional worlds. Contrast any of these characters against those of John Grisham, for example. His books like The Testament and The Last Juror, contain overtly Christian characters who actually seem like normal people. Of course, Grisham excels at character development and dialog, but more than that, Grisham himself seems comfortable with his characters, where many Christian authors do not.
The 3rd major flaw is that all books written for a Christian audience has to have something identifiably “Christian” in the book, whether it fits with the story or not. Much of the time the spiritual insertions are so uncomfortably done that you wish they just weren’t there.
All that being said, Comes A Horseman is not really a bad book; in fact, it is no worse than much secular fiction on the shelves. Liparulo tells a pretty good story. It does share the 3 above-mentioned traits, although rather mildly in comparison with some Christian Ghetto writing. He also assumes a certain eschatological viewpoint that is not necessarily correct, but again, it’s fiction so you can overlook that. It is, overall, an enjoyable book, and while not as compelling as Koontz or Blaylock, it holds your interest enough. The plot is fairly simple, but he manages to keep you somewhat bewildered until the end.
I didn’t write this post to review “Horseman,” or I would have done a better job. Rather, I just wanted to express my frustrations with the genre I guess I will label Christian Ghetto Fiction. Maybe some authors will read this (yeah, right…) and become inspired to write for the world outside of the ghetto.