Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Review: "The Rising" by Robert Ovies

The Rising is a new miracle-based thriller novel, and the debut novel of its author, Robert Ovies. Set in present-day Michigan, it recounts the story of a nine-year-old boy, C. J. Walker, who appears to have been granted the power to raise the dead. His mother, their parish priest, and his semi-estranged father all try to deal with the fallout, which escalates quickly via the media machine. Before long, a shady businessman with a dying son, the U.S. government, and the local Cardinal are all trying to investigate, all trying to get a piece of the action, all trying to get a lock on C. J. -- and his own father's motives are soon seen not to be unambiguous.

But I won't spoil the rest for you.

The book has been published by Ignatius Press, and can be found on Amazon.*

The Strong Points

It's curious to say that plots are not a strong point in much modern literature (and film), since a plot, along with characters, is kind of what a story is, but we all know that it's also true. The Rising, I am happy to say, doesn't suffer from this weakness. The motivations of the characters all square with their decisions throughout the novel, and the sequence of events as a whole develops completely organically, in a story that is compelling and logical, yet still manages to surprise you several times.

The chosen theme of the novel is, obviously, religious. This is handled with a good deal more subtlety than I admit I had expected, particularly on the part of the ecclesiastical characters (most of all with the character of Bennington Reed). The plain, human difficulties of Lynn Walker, C. J.'s mother, and the fact that these have little or nothing to do with just "not having faith," are conveyed particularly well. The way in which the thematic and plot problems of the novel are tied together in the ending is especially good: the two are organically united -- one is tempted to say, sacramentally united -- in the solution.

The depiction of conversion in the novel is also unusually good. Many storytellers, even extremely talented ones, are defeated by conversions: Evelyn Waugh himself doesn't altogether pull off Charles' turnaround in Brideshead Revisited (as good a job as he does with Julia), and one could quarrel even with C. S. Lewis' portrait of Jane Studdock's in That Hideous Strength. Ovies, however, pulls it off beautifully, and with a very unpromising specimen as his chosen convert, no less.

The Weak Points

Stylistically, the book is imperfect. The writing, and occasionally the characterizations, have a wooden feel sometimes, though the book does often rise above this, at times into phrases of sheer brilliance. It has a tendency to linger over material that feels like "filler" sometimes, especially toward the beginning, where wrangles over the resurrected persons are being processed by the relevant bureaucracies.

There are also two characters -- C. J.'s father, Joe, and parish priest, Father Mark -- whose characterization seems at times to be a little too stereotypical to be convincing: the charismatic success-seeker and the unassuming, friendly priest. The former gives the impression, in a few passages (especially when he is being described, earlier on in the novel) of being a sort of typified Bad Husband more than a fully fleshed-out individual; while Father Mark has the similar problem of seeming like The Nice Priest, notably in his struggle with faith.

Is It Worth Reading?

Absolutely! I rarely find myself liking modern-day novels, outside of the fantasy and sci-fi genres (which this, for all its miraculous apparatus, just isn't, from a purely stylistic perspective); but I did enjoy this one. It is a welcome alternative to the spiritually and artistically shallow offerings one often gets in Christian art, and I'm interested to see what Ovies writes next. Buy, read, enjoy.

*I still haven't decided whether to boycott Amazon, though I have stopped ordering things from them until I make up my mind. However, the link will at least confirm what you're looking for, even if you are boycotting them.

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