Athol Dickson’s latest book, Lost Mission, was a pleasant surprise. Every so often, I try to read current Christian fiction to see what’s going on in that market. I admit, it’s not my favorite genre, largely because the quality of the writing has been so poor, especially when compared with the general market. But Dickson has brought Christian fiction a little closer to the standards for the general market, and for that, I am grateful.
The story isn’t so simple (one major reason it sticks out from within the Christian fiction market). Dickson weaves plotlines together across several centuries, including an 19th century monk who works at a Spanish mission and several contemporary plotlines that interweave. There’s Lupe, the Mexican shopkeeper who is called by God on a mission to preach to the Americans. And Tucker, a recent seminary graduate who is trying to make a difference in the lives of the Latin Americans who live in his southern California town illegally (I don’t know if I can say “illegal alien” after all the hype over that Halloween costume, so I’ll just steer clear). And there’s the ridiculously rich Delano with his beachfront home in California, who tries to save his soul through the money he gives to his opulent church.
There’s a mystical/magical realism to the book, lending me to think about such mainstream favorites as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Of course, they’re in a different league, but I’ve got to give Dickson credit for trying.
My least favorite stylistic element is Dickson’s awkward and confusing method of transitioning between time periods. We move from the 18th century to the modern day mid sentence, and it’s never a very appropriate place to transition. It feels very forced.
One additional gripe, which is a minor component of the book but really struck me the wrong way, were the lectures on depression and the use of medicines for them. I’m really sick of hearing Christians rant about this and point fingers at people who choose to medicate a serious medical condition.
What makes this book move Christian fiction a step closer to mainstream fiction is its willingness to allow for bad Christians. Yes, these are saved people who don’t behave themselves. And that’s a much better reflection of the world as we know it. There are so many more shades of grey in this book, which is refreshing, given the cliché “good” characters and cliché “bad” characters that populate typical Christian fiction. In its dark realism, there are hints of Flannery O’Connor’s approach, to revealing the darker side of us all and leaving the heroes and heroines a little muddled, so we need to sort out the moral ambiguities for ourselves.
Okay, there is one character who is too goody two shoes to be real, but I won’t say who it is. I was a bit disappointed that this vestige of current Christian fiction still remained, but at least, the character isn’t the typical American Christian. There’s at least a little uniqueness there.
And thankfully, there’s no “obligatory” conversion experience.
So I’ll encourage you to read the book and judge for yourselves if it’s coming closer to the mainstream standards. I wouldn’t mind if a few of us “voted with our dollars” that we’re looking for more complex, morally complicated books from Christian publishers.
And if you’re interested in hearing what other reviewers are saying about the book, including some opportunities to win a free copy of the book, visit this link.
Many thanks to the LitFuse Publicity Group and Howard Fiction for providing me with a review copy of this book.