Wm Paul Young
Hodder & Stoughton £17.99
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FORGIVENESS is an underrated quality in a reader. Few writers
know just how indulgent their public is, coping with
longueurs, blind alleys, clichés, etc. Why do we do it?
Because we value what the writer gives us in return, be it
sensation, language, or, more often, character.
In The Shack, we forgave Paul Young (Feature,
4 January) a plot based on extreme trauma, passages of
unimaginative prose, and a few clunky scenes - all on account of
his inspired writing about salvation, and a thrilling depiction of
the Trinity. Since the "we" in that last sentence now stands for 18
million readers, it shows the power of forgiveness.
Despite the availability of editorial help which success
attracts - Young lists 11 people in the ac-knowledgements -
forgiveness is still necessary when it comes to Cross
Roads, his follow-up novel.
This is the story of the redemption of Tony, an unpleasant US
businessman, whose misanthropy (and misogyny) borders on paranoia.
After another trauma, we find ourselves back in Shack
territory: a mythical landscape through which Tony wanders,
encountering Jesus, "Grandmother", and "Jack", who is never
identified, but whom the knowing recognise as C. S. Lewis.
Also encountered is some clunky theology: "'So let me get this
right,' Tony began. 'There is Father, that's your Dad, and you
would be the Son?' 'And the Holy Spirit,' offered Jesus. . . 'This
is a Christian thing, right? Christians are polytheists?'" Later,
it all gets very Bunyanesque: Tony has to confront three fiends,
Bluster, Swagger, and Ego, whom he defeats with the help of a
little girl, Hope, the third person in Young's new Trinity.
If this were all, one might praise Cross Roads as a
work of spiritual fantasy, forgiving the stumbles and enjoying some
of the better conversations. But Young has another imaginative
gear. Tony's mythical wanderings take place while his body lies in
an acute ward; but he is not the only occupant of the hospital, nor
the only wanderer. He is kissed by Cabby, a boy with Down syndrome,
and slides into his head, looking out through the boy's eyes and
able to speak to him. When Cabby is kissed by Maggie, a black
Pentecostalist who helps to look after him, Tony slides into her;
and so on.
It's all very bizarre. But even though I wasn't as taken with
the obvious comedy moment as some of Young's American readers have
been, it is good fun, too. There is a narrative purpose, of sorts:
by inhabiting these people, Tony finds the friendship he lacked,
and can share in their good nature. But more than that, we avoid
the self-centredness that can accompany reformation just as much as
its opposite, and can spend large sections of the book in the com-
pany of good and interesting people.
It is not a perfect work, by any means; but you end up liking
the characters, liking Young for creating them, and admiring the
wild inventiveness that is far truer to the spirit of John Bunyan
than the few derivative passages. And when was an evangelistic work
as cheerful as this?