Sunday, August 28, 2011

Empty.

I've been absent for awhile from this blog for several good reasons, none the least of which is that I'm writing some more of my own  fiction (yay!) and making pretty good headway on it, if I do say so myself. And I do.

I've also been up to my eyebrows (which is fortunately not a very high place to think about) in freelance work, to the point where if I believed in cloning, I'd want one or two of 'em to show up at the door and take over. I've easily got enough work and "chorse" around here to keep three people busy, if I ever wanted to actually get it all done in this lifetime (a nice thought).

And, lastly, I've been reading some of a book I got as a birthday present--just one of those "my husband liked the title" sorts of books: he picked up a book called THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CLUB because...well...if you hang around this blog long enough, you know that I am the Cookie Lady every Christmas. He saw the title and thought, "Hey, it might be a fun read."

It's by Ann Pearlman, whose claims to fame earlier have been nonfiction of one type or another, apparently. But the notion of a group of women who get together to do a mammoth cookie exchange every year was intriguing to me. And the gushing on the book jacket about how this was "every woman's story" was almost fatally offputting...but I was curious enough to delve.

Well, my curiosity's been tanked.

Not because the woman can't tell a story; she can, although the story she's choosing to tell and the ways she's telling it are not exactly enchanting to me. When a woman starts out a book with the first line, "I am the head cookie bitch and this is my party," you know you're not in for Betty Crocker...which is fine. Sassy, I like. You can't read Sophie Kinsella without being able to take a few knocks in the head, sass-wise, and I do it willingly. :-)

But what got to me about this book is what gets to me about lots and lots and lots of contemporary fiction now...the utter lack of a faith element in anybody's life. In any character's. And I find that not only increasingly depressing, but...truth be told...increasingly boring. What, after all, do you have if you put together a bunch of women living "contemporary lives" into a book, complete with all the important "women's issues" in there--yanno, pregnancy, married or not married, divorces, children, abuse, deaths of spouses and/or kids, financial problems, fear of commitment, etc., etc., etc.--but without a trace of any kind of higher power support system? Answer--a lot of introspective, navel-gazing, self-absorbed pointlessness. 

And, after 53 pages or so of this book, I'd had enough of it. The characters don't exactly whine; they simply have no direction at all  except what they're trying to provide themselves. I got to the point where there were so many times I just wanted to say, "Honey, this whole thing will make much more sense if you take it to God and let Him deal with it." Only...this isn't a spiritual book. It's a secular book. There's not a mention of God as He truly is so far, and after 53 pages, I'd expect some mention of Him if we were gonna get it at all. We haven't, so I suspect all the uplifting stuff that will take place here will be solely dependent on what these fallible human beings can figure out for each other.

Whoo-boy. Now that's an encouraging thought. Especially since the way some of them are handling their lives already is nothing anyone would want to write home about...much less use as a road map.

Unfortunately, the sad part of this is...that's the way a lot of people really live. And somehow, they still expect their life to make sense. To be rewarding. Or to have "meaning"--when it never even occurs to them to go to the Source of meaning, be it Scripture, prayer, church...in other words, someplace where they can stop pretending to be God themselves. Or you say "God" and they, in Pavlovian style, knee-jerk away and say how they don't want anything "religious" shoved in their faces...

No. They'd rather shove f-bombs, characters who think nothing of sleeping around, gory and gritty descriptions of various tragedy or depravity, and people scrambling for "meaning" in their lives out of things like Tarot cards or the latest sexual position, in someone's face. The message is clear: pretty much anything, in fact, is better shoved in one's face than having God there.

What a farce that is. And what a farce so much fiction turns into, when all the way through, I'm thinking, "Yanno, you're not really alone here. You really aren't. If you're into as much enlightenment as you claim to want to be into, if you're really looking for meaning, look for the One who gives life meaning in the first place. If you really want support, go to the One who will hold you in His hand. If you really want a way out of a bad situation, first admit your part in getting into it, and then surrender it...and then you can find the real way out, rather than scrambling from one dead end to another one."

It's sad. It's sad that so much fiction we see today could be so much more than it is, if it would simply acknowledge and deal honestly with the fact that there are a lot more of us out there who would welcome a touch of God in our lives than those who are running as fast as they can from it. (And there are. Even in this largely atheistic culture, you still ask people, "Do you believe in God?" and most times, you're likely to hear some variation on "Yes.") If it would simply have its characters come to a point where they go from wondering, "Is this all there is?" to actually looking outside themselves and their culture for the answer.

I guess what I'm saying is...I'm tired of fiction that wallows in the shadows of earth but never transcends it. I'm tired of fiction that completely ignores God--or if it talks about Him, implies that overall, it's better for us  if we do our best to shove along without Him. I'm tired of fiction where even where there's a "happy" (or, as the publishing mavens are fond of saying, a "satisfying") ending, the characters still haven't risen outside of themselves and realized they're not the be-all and end-all of their own universes, and their "fellow men" aren't, either.

We frequently bemoan the lack of "realism" in Christian fiction, and that's a valid problem. It's an even sadder problem when we have so many intriguing, wonderful things to share that could bring ordinary fiction into a much higher plane,  even make it more entertaining, without having to resort to a single Bible quotation...simply by bringing in an element or two of a character who's willing to touch on exploring the possibility of belief and/or "transcendence." Having characters who already know they don't have to have, or even find or explain, all the answers...but Someone else has them, and they can approach Him and He won't bite. Having stories where people aren't plaster saints...but they know they're on a journey, they know they're living conversion experiences every day, and they know--they know, not just hope--that there'll be a light at the end of the tunnel that's not a freight train.

Without that sensation--without that presence of the very real God in so much fiction--you can read and read and read horkin' good stories...but they'll still leave you feeling empty.

Which is what this book has left me, after enough reading in it that I should have wanted to come along. But I don't--because I don't want to hang out with a bunch of women who, at the end of the story, won't be any more filled with meaning than they are at the beginning. Who won't know the forest for the trees. And who won't know or care that there's Someone who has more answers than their "community" can ever muster, no matter how hard or earnestly they try. At the end, bottom line...there's still no transcendent hope in their lives. No triumph they can count on from a Someone stronger than themselves. At the end, they're still empty.

I need better than that from my reading.

Which is why it's so damned hard to find really good reading in the secular world...and why a touch of writing from people with faith is so desperately needed. Not preaching. Just damned good writing...with that wonderful undergirding of hope and fulfillment, rather than emptiness.

Are you up to the challenge of filling that void? It's there. First (or second or hundredth) one who figures out the combination, the touch of God without the preaching, and the communication of the hope that doesn't disappoint will sell like hotcakes. And the good news is, with such a tremendously BIG void to fill out there--if we all write as hard as we can from here until the end of our lives, there'll be plenty of room for our good stories and plenty of people who'll want more of them.

Anything's better than running on empty. People know it. They just don't know where to go to get filled. They're afraid that a story with transcendence will be "religious" and preachy; they're afraid that the presence of God in a story will rob it of depth, of realism, or of fun and laughter.

We know better.
Let's prove it.

Thoughts?
Janny