Looking Back at The Shack (a review originally written February 22, 2011)
It was unexpected. I cannot recall the last time I read a work of fiction that was less than a hundred years old. My sense is that there are too many stories told, and one way to judge between them is to see which ones have lasted. A story reprinted for a century or more has surely left its mark on the world, and likely is breathed of a degree of quality that would make it worthwhile to read. Any recent novel has not had the opportunity to such chronological review.
So I approached The Shack with uncertainty: a work of fiction, Christian fiction, with readily apparent theological overtones. I knew only this of the book’s content: God is a black woman. I was surprised to find, not only a nicely flowing narrative—a true achievement given that much of the book is rather deep conversation between the protagonist and the persons of God—but well-articulated pointings and imagings of the nature of reality, the nature of God: that is to say, theology.
The various after materials in my edition reveal that there is a strong expectation that reading this book will impact thinking and evoke a response. As I have concluded the initial read, what do I do next? Have I thus finished a journey, or have I just completed looking at the map for a journey which is to come, one step in preparation to go somewhere farther, deeper?
Is it time now (or later?) to go back through, to focus on the assertions and propositions, to weigh them, digest them, attempt to own them? Surely, my limited literary retention prevents me from doing so by memory: although it was only last night that I turned the last page, already the events and notions are hazy and unclear to me. It is the experience of Mack after a profound weekend, except that for me each new day is apparently begun with a car wreck that obliterates much of my recall concerning what happened.
Is this book to be so influential? Is it to spark further contemplation and growth? Is an investment of going through it again, slowly, reflectively, evaluatively—with a hope of transformation—a worthwhile exercise? There are yet so many books that I’ve not even had an initial exposure to; can I justify a double-dose of this one? I have thought in the past that perhaps I should commit to reading fewer works, but read (or re-read) each one more deeply, so that rather than skimming (though in truth it is not, but my level of retention equates it so) a variety of works, I may truly delve into a few, and hope for greater impact, ownership, experience.
Is this to be the first book for such an attempt, this novel which has not yet even achieved its own adolescence in the chronicles of publishing? Do I risk–by approaching this book differently than I do my reading and study of the Holy Scriptures–showing greater intensity, curiosity, a willingness to re-digest, and a desire to retain?
I cannot claim to have a great sadness pervading my life, which led Mack to so profound an interlude. Without this, can I rightly expect to yet be impacted in my relationships through this tale? Can my thinking and perspective be shaped in real ways, can my considerations be affected, and can I contemplate my affections in a significant way as a result of reading this work?
These questions cannot be answered unless I try. The question is: will I?