- File Size: 732 KB
- Print Length: 337 pages
- Publication Date: November 10, 2016
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B01M59BBPD
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
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Cradle Robber Kindle Edition
"The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell" by Robert Dugoni
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NOTE: This review is one huge SPOILER, so if you don't want any spoilers, skip over this review and move along... move along... nothing to read here... move along... ;-)
Staron deals with some heavyweight issues that affect everyone, not just Christians, but he looks at the issues with the particular perspective of a Christian and views life through that lens, and his observations will undoubtedly be words that many readers can take to heart and can find a harmonic in their own hearts that resonates with the themes of the book. The main issue is abortion. Staron has a singular view: abortion is murder, nothing less. It is an act that destroys a human life--and not just the child being aborted, but the life of the mother and those around her as well. And while we're at it, let's throw in the ripple effect of the father of the child aborted, the friends and families, etc. Staron makes it clear that the tragedy of abortion has wide area of influence.
Enter the premise of Wade Rollins: What if we could travel back in time and manipulate events? The inciting incident for his plan to create and utilize a time machine came early in the book. Wade was a worker at MissionFocus, a center that helped teens and young adults at risk with social activities and Christian counseling. One of his advisees was Angela, a "nice girl" who ended up dating one of the ne'er do wells from the center, Carter. Carter was incorrigible but Wade and others kept seeing the best. Unfortunately, the "best" never materialized. Instead, Angela ends up pregnant by Carter; has an abortion paid for by Carter; sees Carter in an embrace with her best friend Ericka; runs off in despair; and stands in front of an oncoming train to end her life, which she viewed as hopeless.
Here Staron looks not at just the abortion, but the causes for the abortion: teen inexperience and passion, poor judgment, and the lack of moral compass exhibited by Carter, the father of the child. Wade is inconsolable at the death of Angela, and when he learns that it was a suicide, feels responsible for her death because of his role in tacitly approving Carter and Angela's budding relationship at the center, one that led to abortion and Angela's suicide.
Ten years later, Carter has become a person who embodies evil: he is a drunk, a drug dealer, a womanizer with absolutely no moral compass. Wade decided that if Carter had never been born, the world would be a better place, and the trail of ruined lives in his wake would no longer exist. So he sets about going back in time to "correct" the situation. But before he goes, he gives Carter two chances to put his life right, neither of which are successful. Carter is without an inkling of remorse, and Wade's decision was set in stone.
Wade went back in his time machine and "met" Carter's mother, Traci, just after she had become pregnant with her faithless scoundrel of a partner, Denny, who has run off when news of Traci's pregnancy reaches him. Traci was a drug addict and a drunk at the time: her life was a wreck, to say the least, and Wade knew that throughout Carter's life, she had been an absent parent, of no use to Carter or to herself, and that was largely responsible for the way Carter turned out.
Wade approached Traci at a vulnerable time (she was crying over what would happen to her now that Denny had gone and she was pregnant.) Wade convinces her that the way to solve her problem is to have an abortion. Wade is able to easily convince her and help her to overcome her struggle to object to the abortion, and he even goes with her to the clinic in another town and gives her a "loan" of $1000 to turn her life around with schooling, etc. Yes, Traci has deep remorse that drives her to run in the rain to the railroad tracks, where she stands, hoping the train will take her life for having had an abortion (just like Angela), but Traci jumps out of the way at the last moment and lives.
This is where I see a weakness in the plot. Staron uses arguments "for" abortion that are one-dimensional and straightforward, and he sets up a "straw man" view of those who are "pro choice." Additionally, he creates a method for convincing women to have an abortion that doesn't fail--a few well-chosen, slick-sounding words to a confused pregnant young woman, and *presto!* they are able to push aside whatever beliefs and convictions they may have had prior to the "temptation of Wade." This stretches the reader's ability to "suspend disbelief." (Suspension of Disbelief is the ability of the reader to accept the world created by the author and to believe that everything that occurs in the plot is logical in the world the author presents us. For example, in a cartoon, we suspend disbelief by accepting the "fact" that animals can talk, or, in this story, that someone could create a functioning time machine on his free time while working for the Department of Defense. All right, we can do that. But to think that a few slick words will work every time to convince a woman to have an abortion... well, that, in my opinion, stretches that ability of the reader to "suspend disbelief.")
Traci has the abortion; Carter is never born; Angela does not commit suicide but becomes a happy, successful young woman; and Traci gets her life back in order. In fact, Traci becomes a counselor at MissionFocus, and her life is a terrific testimony to the power of the Lord to forgive and to nurture anyone who comes to Him in faith and with repentance. Not only this, but Wade meets her in this "new future" and falls in love with her.
Wade, however, cannot get away from his self-blame for what happened when he was a counselor, and his cynicism questions all of Traci's work at MissionFocus and predicts a sorry ending for some of the teens there whom he judges incorrigible.
Wade then decides that he can and should continue to use his time machine to make sure other undesirables don't make it into his "present." He carefully observes people to see who should never have been born, and he decide whom to eliminate. In one case, he nearly goes after the wrong person (he believes a man, Rob, is abusing his wife Maggie, but he finally discovers that Rob is mourning the loss of his child, which heartless Maggie has murdered via an abortion for which she feels no remorse; she tells him to "get over it." And his response to her is a key point that Staron makes on his way to clarifying his theme. Rob says to Maggie, "We have to accept responsibility for our actions."
It is this responsibility that Staron shines his light on. He looks at that responsibility, particularly the responsibility borne when one becomes pregnant, from the decision to have sex to the acceptance of the consequences to the preparation to care for the life that has been formed. Staron is unwavering in his focus here. He shows without question how every related decision along the route of abortion--whether the decision is not to have one or to have one--has far-reaching effects on everyone whose life is touched by those who have created that life. In this, he does an outstanding job.
As time goes on in the book, Wade and Traci become more and more romantically and spiritually intertwined. Wade continues on his journey toward his own darkness as he sets himself up as a "god" who decides who lives and who dies. Traci remains the believer she has become, and she tries, with the help of friends Tom and Linda, to bring Wade back to the light, without success.
As one would suspect, Traci finally understands what Wade has been doing and that it was he who had appeared to her so long ago to convince her to murder her child. She is destroyed by this realization, and she tries to make Wade see that her life has not been all rosy since that time. His interference, even though it saved many from destruction by keeping Carter from being born, has been the source of Traci's daily guilt and remorse. And here Staron drives home the long-lasting consequences of abortion even though it may have seemed like "a good idea at the time:" "I've lived with guilt all these years, Wade. My heart's sick at what I've done. Not a day goes by when I don't grow jealous of the love that other people share with their kids. Every time I hear a children's choir sing, every toddler that I see in the grocery store, each one is like a dagger into my heart. It's a reminder of my own selfishness. And no matter what I do, I can't get rid of this pain. No matter how many times I beg for forgiveness."
Traci wants to use the time machine to go back and convince her earlier self NOT to have the abortion, and she tells Wade, "You made me feel like I was setting myself free, when what I really did was fasten my own chains. My selfishness took the lie of an innocent and I've spent years trying to repent for the evil that girl brought upon herself. I need to go back and warn her--to tell her what it means to do away with the love of a darling little boy." With this, Staron shows the reader both sides of Traci's abortion, and neither side is pretty or justifiable. Without it, Traci would have become a hopeless, lost soul whose son was responsible for unspeakable evil. With it, she cannot live with her guilt over having taken away an innocent life.
Staron uses the time machine as a two-edged sword, but it appears that no matter which direction the sword swings, it causes mainly heartache. Staron sharpens his point after all of the remorse, after all the self-deprecation, after all the guilt, and, particularly of concern to the readers, all of the times we seek forgiveness but feel we just cannot accept it because we "know" our sin is too great--and we know this because it keeps washing back over us, and we never quite escape its reach. Staron knows this suffering, and he puts it well as he shows us a path out of that vicious cycle: "Don't live your life as a sacrifice to your sin. Don't give yourself over to unjust guilt. God has given you the chance to repent of your sin, to cast it aside. You can't turn your back on Him now. This could be your only chance." Too many of us do exactly that: live at least part of our lives as an ongoing "sacrifice to our sin." As if God is not great enough to take it away permanently.
Wade, at the end, sees that he can not be God, and the full weight of his OWN sin falls heavily on him. With the help of his friends Tom and Linda, and the love of Traci, he comes to terms with the horrible actions that took him so far away from his first belief and learns to accept a "present" without the option of changing the past.
In conclusion, let me say that Staron has written a thoughtful and compassionate first novel about dealing with overwhelming sin, whether the reader thinks "abortion" or some other sin that may be a long-term infection of his/her life. Staron shows us that alternate paths that we may have followed don't really mean anything now, because, well, we just CAN'T go back. And there's no need to. As Staron wrote, "He (Jesus) has already paid the price. I can't take back my past, but I'm no longer obligated to live in it."
Nice job, Chris!
It's difficult to give a full review without giving away parts of it, which I personally hate and won't do here.
But I highly recommend this book, and I'm anxiously awaiting additional books from Mr. Staron!