Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. My integrity is not for sale. Those who know me well are aware a free book isn't enough to assuage my cutting honesty. If I've failed to write a bad review, it has nothing to do with the source of the material and only with the material itself.

It's pretty amazing to see a really high quality fiction writer attempts non-fiction. It can go one of two ways - either it's stilted and formal, like a baby learning to walk a la John Grisham's Innocent Man, or it's chock full of descriptive, inventive prose and non-traditional narrative arcs. The Great Good Thing is definitely the latter. It's almost jarring to see a "Christian" memoir that's also artistically written and engaging for its prose. For that reason alone, this is one of the better books I've reviewed under this program.

Andrew Klavan is a writer of mystery and suspense, as well as a screenwriter, and occasional essayist. This book is his telling of a lifelong journey to Christian faith - from a dysfunctional, nominally-Jewish upbringing through rebellion, atheism, and mysticism, to a baptism in middle age. It's not any sort of conventional conversion story, though, and that is refreshing. Klavan doesn't have any dramatic change of heart, nor does he particularly alter his personality or outlook on life - he simply lives and deals with the realities of life as best he can. If anything, this is a survival tale with a faith-based frame.

I find the uniqueness and honesty in the book fascinating, although without the stellar prose, it probably would not be as rewarding a read. Klavan doesn't provide the kind of detail one typically finds in such memoirs, which makes it difficult to connect to the story. I'd also argue that Klavan doesn't necessarily explain a story of conversion or faith, but a journey to accept and understand love in profound and healthy ways. There's no theology here, but a reckoning of common sense and life experience with an utter intellectual pragmatism. This is a story of one man staying sane and finding peace that just happens to intersect with Christian faith.

Like any relatively new believer, the faith Klavan describes is very personal and therapeutic; it doesn't necessarily resonate with a self-sacrificial, community-centered faith that's more aligned with the gospel - but the immaturity of this faith and the need for growth and development is something that Klavan recognizes and helps to frame the narrative.

Overall it's a book, a well-written one, with some interesting perspectives on life and faith, but it really is the novelty of the piece that makes it stand out. I suspect a book like this gets published because the author already has a built-in audience. Hopefully it will do well enough - and from a new crowd - that Christian publishers will look to non-traditional and alternative narratives to broaden the spectrum of faith journeys to which the reading public is exposed.

If you're a fan of his work or someone interested in Jesus, but not the trappings or dogma of the various Christian sub-cultures, this might be an interesting read. If you like beautiful prose; it's a good choice. If you're looking for some mirror of self-reflection or the typically inspirational story of conversion, you should probably look elsewhere. A good, not great book - but certainly something, I'm sure, that was important for him to tell.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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