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Great authors sometimes fail.
on March 22, 2001
About three weeks ago one of my own readers recommended Francine Rivers to me, and the first book I happened to pick up was The Sin-Eater. I felt like Keats when he first read Homer, "upon a peak in Darien." The last time I was this excited over a writer was when I discovered C.S. Lewis almost forty years ago. We don't have to wait any longer for the "great American novel;" Mrs. Rivers has written it, and it is titled The Sin-Eater.
Next I read the Mark of the Lion series, and they were as good. Redeeming Love was not quite perfect, but almost. The first book of her new series, Unveiled, is also outstanding. These books are in a class by themselves; in comparison, everything else out there in the Christian fiction category is mere fluff. But (like other great writers,) she can be uneven. The Shoe-Box was nothing like her other books. It is something like a MacDonald fairy tale, but even MacDonald doesn't succeed all the time.
I was really disappointed in Unashamed. Unlike Tamar in Unveiled, Rahab failed to win my sympathy; she could have demonstrated great faith without bullying her family. Salmon was a very shallow character also. Many of the details were unrealistic, Rahab hanging on to the rope for instance. Even the miracles were handled badly, the tramping feet of the Israelites receiving partial credit for Jericho's fall. My major criticism is what was left out. What happened to Cabul? He just disappears from the story, and he is not the sort of man to quietly disappear. When he returns from his fruitless search there are two possibilities: either he is suspicious of Rahab and brings accusations against her which we can watch her try to squirm out of (my choice,) or else he is unsuspicious and tries to resume his relationship with her. Instead we are supposed to believe that Rahab's actions, including going out of business and the sequestering of her family, arouse no comment from her neighbors, her clientele, or the king with whom she is supposed to have such a close relationship.
The re-telling of a Bible story is supposed to answer this kind of questions. What happens between the sending off of the spies and the actual fall of Jericho? This is a very dangerous time for Rahab and should have been the heart of the story, but it is omitted completely. I've always wondered if that dangling red cord did not arouse anyone's curiosity. I guess not. The ending is rather abrupt also. We have no evidence that Rahab has any regard for Salmon. Will this be a happy marriage? There was no reason for him to be younger than she.
Mrs. Rivers, I wish I were your publisher. You are a truly great writer, and I love the spirit I sense in you. But I would have told you to shred this one and start over.