Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Written Word Wed. - The Buffer Is Rapidly Dwindling

Okay, seriously, by this time next week you will have my review of Amy Tan's Saving Fish From Drowning, come hell or high water. In the meantime, I offer you the next-to-the-last review from my Genre Fiction class; this was the one I chose for my Christian Fiction selection.

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.

This book depicts the adventures of a group of people struggling to cope with being left behind by their loved ones in a Post-Rapture world. The setting is a world which has been plunged into chaos after a large portion of the world’s population (including all children) suddenly vanishes into thin air. The three main characters, all of whom were on the same flight when the Rapture occurred, are Rayford Steele, an airline pilot whose callousness towards his “bible-thumping” wife quickly turns to regret and conversion when he realizes that she and their son are gone forever; Buck Williams, a young but world renowned reporter who finds himself drawn into the circle of influence of the charismatic and powerful politician Nicolae Carpathia; and Hattie Durham, an attractive flight attendant whose desire to make a connection with someone during this time of crisis eventually provides a bridge between Rayford and Buck, even as she drifts apart from them both. As the novel progresses Rayford and Buck begin to discover, independently of each other, that there are forces at work in the halls of the world government that will make the initial chaos following the Rapture pale in comparison. By the end of the book (the first in a series of 12), Rayford, Buck, and a few others become the core of a group known as the Tribulation Force, determined to battle against the coming time of darkness.

This book follows the general guidelines of Christian fiction, featuring no profanity or sex, although there is some violence. With a large portion of the text devoted to carefully delineating between those who disappeared and those who were left behind as those who were true believers in the Bible and those who weren’t, this book is clearly intended as an Evangelical text. Rayford is the key figure in this context, as he is the first of the main characters to whole-heartedly convert to Christianity, and it is through his process of conversion that the authors are able to convey their message of salvation. The Left Behind books are often classified as Thrillers, and this volume is probably closer to being a Political Thriller than anything else, as Buck investigates the shady dealing surrounding Carpathia’s rise to power. The supernatural undertones make this novel a borderline Fantasy book, although the actual supernatural occurrences mainly happen off-screen until the very end of the book.

Although the book had quite a few flaws, I enjoyed it overall. My favorite sections were those dealing with Buck, probably due to a combination of actual action in those sections and the fact that Buck felt like the most well-developed of all of the characters. Rayford, as mentioned above, mainly served as a conduit for the authors’ message of salvation, and as such often felt more like a plot device than anything else. Hattie’s actions often seemed inconsistent to me, going from air-head to level-head at the drop of a hat. As for the writing, well, the prose often felt clunky, the sermonizing tended to be heavy-handed, and there were some passages which actually made me cringe a bit. It was as if the authors were trying to get inside the head on non-Christians, but were unable to connect with their pre-conversion lives. The phrase that bothered me the most was “He was no prude, but Rayford had never been unfaithful to Irene.” Maybe I’m more out of touch than I thought, but since when does monogamy equal prudishness? But, despite these quibbles, by the last half of the book I was hooked, thanks to the trials of Buck and his investigations into Carpathia. The extremely open-ended conclusion to this volume had me curious enough to consider picking up the next book in the series; of course, much time has now passed since then, and many other, much more enjoyable books have moved this series further and further down my reading list.

Purely in terms of genre, I would recommend this to Christian readers who enjoy suspense stories. Non-Christians might be off-put by the sermonizing, but anyone interested in apocalyptic stories might be able to look past that. The supernatural aspects of the storyline might appeal to readers of Fantasy, and the near-future setting and projections of post-apocalyptic society might appeal to readers of SF.