Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Connecting to the Story

As with Donald Miller's "Blue Like Jazz," I kept hearing about "The Shack" before I even had a clue what it was about.
"Have you read "The Shack"?" People kept asking me.
"The what?"
I hadn't even heard of it.

When I arrived in Fairhope, AL, everyone was all abuzz about the author coming to town for a reading. The local book store was so excited that they transformed the downtown shop into a shack. Literally. The store front looked like a movie set with the false front shack covering the entire building.
I have to say I was skeptical. I'd heard the book was self-published. Could it really be all that?
I'd also heard reviews from people who'd read the book. The first part sucked them in, but then they got bogged down in the middle - something about God being a black woman. What is this book about? I wondered.

When Paul Young did come to town, the theater was packed. And I was surprised that he didn't read a word from the book. Instead, he talked about the journey of writing it and the events that lead to his national television appearance that morning, and possible movie deals.
How does someone who admits he's not a trained writer, end up with a book that lands him in the spotlight?
Just hearing Young speak about his book help dispel some of my skepticism. And, I finally read the book.
"The Shack" is not a great literary achievement. (and on the literary merit alone, I take issue with anyone who tries to compare it to John Bunyan). There are certainly books by far better writers that have not reached the status that Young's book has. Aside from the writing itself, I also had to read and re-read some of the passages that get into theology that I found a little complex.

Yet despite all this, the book is a success, and it is because Young has crafted a story that appeals to a wide-readership. The story of great loss and redemption is something that nearly every reader can relate to. "The Shack" allows the reader to get angry with and question God, as Mack does. It's a book that makes it OK to NOT have all the answers - but to learn to trust God anyway.

After reading the book, I am surprised at some of the misconceptions I heard about the book prior to reading it. The book is a work of fiction. An allegory. It is not intended to be read literally. At his appearance in Alabama, Young said the book has caused great confusion for many who identify so strongly with the story that they think it is a work of non-fiction.
Don't go looking for the case files, they don't exist.

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