There are certain books that I avoid reading simply because everyone is reading them, and sometimes I want to be a book snob. One of those books was William P. Young's Christian fiction mega-bestseller The Shack.*
When I worked at the public library, this title was huge. And then my dad read it, and loved it, and for years now I have had to listen to him ask, "Hey, have you read The Shack yet?" This year I found out my sister had started it, so because I could care less if I'm left out of something that the rest of the world is talking about, I don't like being left out of something that's being read and discussed in my family. So I requested and got it from the public library.
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, oh my God. What a piece of crap. I'm sorry, really sorry, if you read it and liked it and are offended by me saying that. Most of the American book-buying public obviously really liked it, and so did my dad (who is usually a pretty discerning customer when it comes to books--he's the one who first turned me on to Richard Adams's novel Watership Down, after all), so clearly I'm the outlier here.
The book starts with a page-turning feel. The protagonist, Mack, is caught in an ice storm at his house, and when he goes to check his mail, he finds a note in the mailbox that reads "It's been a while. I've missed you. I'll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. -Papa." Mack's wife and family are out of town, and Mack doesn't know what to think of the note. It's painful on several levels--he thinks "the shack" being referenced must be the one where, years earlier, a family tragedy had played out: the abduction and murder of his youngest daughter, Missy. He also knows that his wife refers to God as "papa." Could God be so cruel as to be inviting him back to the shack where he found evidence of all that is evil in the world?
So he goes to the shack, where of course he finds God is waiting for him, in the form of three persons, ready to talk to him about what happened to Missy and Mack's own relationship with God. And heaven help us, once it hits the chapters and chapters of God (in various forms) talking at Mack, does it get boring. Whoever has referred to this book as a story-driven narrative is way off. It is basically a Christian fable attempting to answer the age-old question "why do bad things happen to good people?"**
All of that said, I DID get a lot of laughs out of this book, which I don't think was the point, but what the hell, I'll take laughs wherever I can get them. Most of these laughs started when Mack first meets Papa-as-Three-Entities. The first is described as a "large beaming African American woman," and when Mack meets all three of them at once he asks if there are more of them, and this is what happens:
"The three looked at one another and laughed. Mack couldn't help but smile. 'No, Mackenzie,' chuckled the black woman. 'We is all that you get, and believe me, we're more than enough." (p. 85.)
Really? "We is all that you get"? Dialect from God? Can authors really get away with that sort of thing and still become mega-huge bestsellers? Evidently yes.
But I got an even bigger chuckle out of Mack meeting Jesus:
'"I guess I expected you to be more,' be careful here, Mack, 'uh...well, humanly striking.'
Jesus chuckled. 'Humanly striking? You mean handsome.' Now he was laughing.
'Well, I was trying to avoid that, but yes. Somehow I thought you'd be the ideal man, you know, athletic and overwhelmingly good looking.'***
'It's my nose, isn't it?'
Mack didn't know what to say.
Jesus laughed. 'I am Jewish, you know. My grandfather on my mother's side had a big nose; in fact, most of the men on my mom's side had big noses.'" (p. 111.)
Really? A big Jewish nose joke? Can authors really get away with that sort of thing and still become mega-huge bestsellers? Evidently yes.
WOW. And the laughs kept coming, all the way to the end. And here's where I have to give you the big *****SPOILER ALERT*****--just in case you're still planning to read this one. In the beginning of the story, we learn that Missy is abducted on a family camping trip with Mack and two of his other kids. He and Missy are at the campsite while the other two are canoeing on the lake, and when Mack looks at them, his daughter Kate raises her oar to wave hello, which makes their canoe capsize, so Mack has to rush down to the lake and save them, leaving Missy alone at the campsite. When they return she is gone. Fast forward to the present, where Mack's wife Nan and he are struggling to understand why Kate is showing signs of emotional distress and acting out. At the very end of the book we learn, as God tells Mack, that Kate--get this--feels guilty for tipping the canoe, which makes her responsible, she feels, for Missy's abduction and death. Mack is shocked to learn this. THAT is the big reveal? You're telling me this idiot needs God to help him get to that conclusion? Heaven help us all.****
*No affiliate links to this book; I really, really don't want you to buy it. Check it out from the library if you have to.
**Is there really any satisfactory answer to this question in our mortal sphere? Even if you accept that God didn't cause the bad thing, does that make it any more understandable? Even if you forgive the bad things, does that make them understandable? I guess I personally feel that's one of those questions no one's ever going to answer for me satisfactorily, particularly Mr. William P. Young.
***Why on earth would anyone think this? Was Jesus described in the Bible somewhere as a smoking hottie, and I missed it? The fact that this Mack person obviously associates holiness with hotness really makes me dislike him.
****I kept telling all these stories to Mr. CR, whose only reaction has been to say "Is that book still in our house? Can you get it out of here please?"