Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A recommended read

I found myself writing a book review for the Barnes & Noble website* tonight (we’ll see if it gets posted) and thought I’d publish it here as well.

Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers
I have to admit, when I first got a used copy of this from my cousin, it did not jump to the top of my reading list. Oh no. In fact, it stayed on my dresser top, beneath a growing pile of books, for at least a year. Finally, however, one night when I had just finished reading a used copy of The Red Tent (a creative retelling of the life of Jacob’s daughter Dinah), and found myself swallowing disappointment at the flat second half of what started out as a very promising book, I gave our girl Francine a second thought. True, I had once devoured every Bodie Thoene book I could find; perhaps Christian romance wasn’t entirely the tepid discredit to writing I’d mostly thought it was.

Since nothing else in my dresser-top stack came close to the soul-feeding book I longed to read at that moment, I decided to take a chance on Redeeming Love. While the first couple pages didn’t exactly ring with the prose of an Updike — though he, too, struggle more with plot — it wasn’t long before I was unexpectedly hooked and turning the pages so fast I started to wonder if this book might make a speedreader of me (I did finish it in something like two days, a return to childhood late-night reading stints).

To my surprise, it wasn’t a book with the “fake” premise of a sinful woman redeemed that instead proves to paint “sin” in the palest, mauve shades imaginable; it delved with shocking candor into the sort of gritty, painful details too few authors seem to recall the Bible doesn’t blush at acknowledging. Rivers unflinchingly follows her characters’ story, not constraining it to the places church librarians might think it could safely go — and that’s where the transforming power of the book really lies.

Scenes like a later, pivotal one in a brothel play surprisingly well, though even that far into the book, I doubted there’d be a convincing, plausible resolution. Same with Rivers’ bold, but measured treatment of scenes in the couple’s marital bed. While she could never be accused of titillation, she doesn’t draw back from important issues raised and resolved in the couple’s greatest intimacies, powerfully mining the difference between physical sham and real unity. Full props to Francine on this one.

I have to say, too, on a personal note, that not only was Redeeming Love exactly the sort of story I was looking for that night — a book that fed my soul and left me feeling I’d live life better for having read it — it was a guide to me as an author. In the months later, as I tackled some major challenges in writing scenes for the book, I thought back to how Francine had handled sensitive scenes in her book. Definitely a worthy read, and a credit to the what’s possible when Christians make art with a view to honoring God.

*The links throughout are to Amazon right now, as I’m still waiting to get approval for B&N’s new affiliate program. Sigh.

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