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The Novelist by Angela Hunt

Reviewed by C.J. Darlington

"Another winner from Ms. Hunt."

Think a novelist's life consists of fancy release parties, crowded book signings, and TV appearances? Think again. Being a writer is tough work, even for a bestselling one like Jordan Casey, the protagonist of The Novelist. She's made her success penning 20 testosterone-laced novels featuring super-spy Rex Tower, which is why most of the world thinks "she" is a "he". But the students in Jordan's class "An Introduction to Novel Writing" at the community college quickly discover Rex's creator is actually an utterly normal middle-aged mother of three.

Within the first minutes of class, one of Jordan's students challenges her to write a book less plastic and more personal than her Rex Tower stories--to open a vein at the keyboard, which in authorese means bleeding your heart into the story. At first offended, Jordan tries to ignore the challenge. But the criticism of her shallow novels cuts deep. Jordan's always been reluctant to merge her faith with her writing, but what kind of message is that sending to her son Zach, who's already skeptical of her Christianity? Soon Jordan sees the opportunity. Not only can she show, rather than tell, her class how to write a novel, but maybe she can use the resulting story to reach Zach.

And so a novella is born. Interspersed throughout the modern-day scenes of The Novelist, we read the manuscript Jordan writes for her students. A spiritual allegory she titles The Ambassador, Jordan uses slot machines and gambling as symbols to share the story of a man who is all of us.

But as Jordan's fictional story unfolds, so does the one of her real-life. Zach's increasingly erratic behavior drives mother and son even further apart, and Jordan and her husband struggle with how to handle him. Finding Zach's journal, Jordan is shocked to read about a side of Zach she never dreamed existed--he wants to die. Where did she go wrong? And how can she help a son who doesn't want to be helped?

Readers of The Novelist can't help but wonder how much of Angela Hunt is in Jordan Casey. After all, they're both bestselling novelists, drive the same model car, and even own mastiffs. But Angela insists, "Jordan is much more successful, wealthy, and better looking than me." It's clear however, that what Jordan lacks in her Rex Tower novels -- emotion and character -- Angela certainly doesn't. I knew I was in the hands of a skilled writer who drew me into the story from the get-go.

Interestingly, The Novelist also acts as a sort of primer for budding writers. Jordan's advice to her students could just as easily be read in an issue of Writer's Digest. From how to make time to write, to giving your characters warts, it's practical counsel all writers will appreciate. And anyone familiar with Angela's previous novels will smile at the nod toward two of her own, Unspoken and The Canopy, in a piece of advice Jordan gives the students.

When I asked Angela why she chose to write two stories in one, she said, "Jordan's story is a metaphor to illustrate how God plots our lives and yet still gives us free will within the framework of our stories." A concept Angela handles well. In the slower-paced allegory scenes of The Ambassador I recognized the Garden of Eden, man's fall, and his ultimate, beautiful redemption.

A great novel to pick up at the end of a hectic day, crisp writing and spiritual candor mark The Novelist as another winner for Ms. Hunt.

Sheryl RootSheryl Root is Partner Database Manager at OneHope, a non-profit organization whose mission is to reach every child with God’s Word. She’s also a writer and a reader of everything she can get her hands on … books, blogs, magazines. In other words, she’s both a data geek and a book nerd. She loves to be able to support Christian authors and spread the word on great books and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, a wonderful community of published and yet to be published writers. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sheryl_Root.