Secular Novels Can Teach Christians a Thing or Two

Vainsang/Flickr
Vainsang/Flickr

A lesbian wedding, childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism, violence, pornography, and murder all show up within the pages of Wally Lamb’s most recent novel We Are Water. So does love, loyalty, healing, beauty, and a confused evangelical Christian. In many ways, it was a hard book to read, particularly the part about the childhood trauma and abuse. But I’m glad I stuck with it (and not simply because I will be able to participate in my book club’s discussion next week).

We Are Water was well-written and the characters were interesting, sure. And I was intrigued by the portrayal of the evangelical trying to find his place in a modern, irreligious, liberal family and by the portrayal of his mother—a lapsed but still believing Catholic—who fell in love with another woman (though I have to say I wasn’t convinced by her love for the other woman or her love for her husband, which perhaps was the point). But most of all, this book was worthwhile because it gave me the story behind every character. By the end, I empathized with them all, even the most awful perpetrator of evil among them. I didn’t condone their actions, but I understood the motivations and influences behind them.

In spending time with these fictional people, Lamb succeeded in humanizing individuals who might otherwise have remained a “type” –whether the lesbian artist, the sexual predator, the liberal social activist, or the evangelical from Texas. And in feeling some degree of empathy and understanding with each of them, this novel succeeded in humanizing me a little bit, reminding me of the humanity I share with everyone else, in our common brokenness and our common beauty.

There are all sorts of reasons to read good novels—these stories teach us about historical events through a narrative frame, they create art out of language, they identify social woes that need attention. But the best novels do even more than that.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Christianity Today
Amy Julia Becker

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