Book Review: Lost Mission

LostMissionAthol 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.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Amy, thank you for including LOST MISSION among your list of Christmas gift suggestions. I followed the link from there to here.

    Although I very seldom comment on blog reviews (because of course everyone is entitled to their personal opinions) in this case I must reply to one inaccurate impression you left about the treatment of depression in my novel.

    LOST MISSION does not lecture the reader about depression. There is one section of dialogue on the subject (only one) and in that dialogue one character does oppose medication. But of course characters often say foolish things in novels. Since the character in question has essentially lost his mind by the end of LOST MISSION, I’m certain most readers will take what he says with a massive grain of salt. That was certainly my intention.

    I’m afraid you did not read that part of this novel very carefully, or perhaps you read into it what you expected to find. It’s simply impossible that I would ever write a “rant” against depression medication, or “point fingers” at people who take it. I once suffered from severe depression myself, to the point of having suicidal thoughts, so I strongly support antidepressants in appropriate situations. Recently I wrote a blog post on the subject. Although it doesn’t mention medication specifically, it does offer insight into my beliefs on the foolishness of many Christians’ attitudes toward depression. I hope you and your readers will visit it:

    http://whatatholwrote.blogspot.com/2009/11/thoughts-on-humility-against-despair.html

    Thanks again for including LOST MISSION in a gift list alongside the likes of Toni Morrison and Barbara Kingsolver. That made my day!

    AL: I’m so glad that you don’t share your character’s position on Christians using antidepressants. Thanks for writing in to let us know your position on them. It’s a rare opportunity to have an author write in here to let us know about his or her work, so what a treat!

    I am, however, going to challenge your approach to writing about depression in this way. I totally agree that as readers, we should always separate the views of the author from the views of one particular character, or even of the narrator, which many people confuse as the author. However, I’m of the opinion that when one character spends a lengthy amount of time detailing a particular position, and neither the narrator or any other characters counter that position at any place in the novel, you actually promote a view that you might not want to promote. For example, let’s say that a novelist creates a German character in the 1940s who rants about how evil Jews are. And there are no other views in the novel to counter it. No good guys fight that character, challenge those views, no Jews are depicted sympathetically. What you’d have is a piece of Nazi propaganda in your hands, not simply the view of one character. So, in the same way (in a lesser scale), to give voice to a very popular and dangerous Christian position, which is the non-use of antidepressents, without challenging that position at any place, you end up advocating the exact position that you hope to refute.

    I’m excited to have this differing of opinions presented because it’s a perfect example of how authorial intention and reader interpretation can differ, and how authorial intention isn’t necessarily the most important perspective because in the end, we have the product that speaks for itself, in different contexts.

    I’d be interested to hear from other readers who have read this text and might have their own interpretation of this section. I’m perfectly aware that readers can bring their own perspectives to a reading, and therefore, get their own slant on the material.

    Thanks again for writing in and sharing your thoughts!


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