Magazine article The Christian Century

Who Reads Fiction?

Magazine article The Christian Century

Who Reads Fiction?

Article excerpt

Until recently, lovers of good fiction have known better than to look for it in religious bookstores. The novels that appeared on the shelves of such stores were pretty well limited to Christian romance, mysteries or historical novels, along with stories of spiritual warfare or novels with biblical characters and settings. In much of this fiction, spiritual uplift takes precedence over good writing. Providing moral lessons is considered as more important than creating complex, believable characters.

But publishers of religious books have begun to pay attention to high-quality fiction that takes Christian faith seriously.

Baker Books, an evangelical publishing company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is gearing its new line of literary fiction to college-educated women--the primary audience. (As much as 80 percent of the fiction bought in the Christian marketplace is bought by women.) Baker's most recent titles, James Schaap's The Secrets of Barnveld Calvary and Augusta Trobaugh's Praise Jerusalem! admirably fulfill the publisher's intention to present fiction that is written from an evangelical perspective but without the overt didacticism of the popular genres. And like all good fiction, these books don't exactly fit a niche, not even the one defined by the publisher's strategy of marketing books to women.

Schaap's collection of short stories, which is centered on the members of a small-town church and narrated by its pastor, deals believably with life's temptations and ambiguities. In "Adrianna Meekhof, Stuart Mackey, and Mutual Sin," a widower and a woman who is unhappily married find themselves drawn to each other, though their faith keeps them from launching into an affair. The couple eventually marries, and the marriage is happy, but it is clouded by the knowledge that their relationship was a factor in the suicide of Adrianna's husband. A number of Schaap's stories deal with the effects of past resentments or suspicions. Schaap's world is one in which people struggle with guilt, or cope with the news that a beloved son is gay, or reflect on new insights about a long-dead parent. It is also a world permeated by God's grace.

Baker has had considerable cross-over success with Praise Jerusalem! and for good reason. Trobaugh (a pseudonym) writes with grace and charm. Her story is about three unlikely adventurers--Amelia, an aging, increasingly impoverished Southern lady; Maybelline, the "po' white trash" boarder Amelia reluctantly has taken in; and Mrs. Johnson, a black woman escaping an abusive husband. Their odyssey takes them to the long-empty house that belonged to Maybelline's great-grand-daddy in Jerusalem, Georgia. …

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