Listers, the crisis of contemporary literature can only be alleviated by the united effort of the Catholic community. One of my proposed remedies to this grievous situation is by encouraging (nay, beseeching) Catholic media outlets like blogs, television, and radio to give Catholic writers and artists the exposure they deserve. Today I am going to put my money where my mouth is. I am going to review a novel I recently finished called Christopher by Catholic writer, David Athey. This is book is an example of the artistic and literary potential that Catholic Church has within its pews. I hope that SPL will become a place where authors like David Athey have an opportunity to exhibit their work. Now on to my analysis of his most recent book Christopher.
#1 Realistic Plot
Christopher follows the life of a boy named Christopher Lagorio who lives in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior. Through his spiritually tumultuous journey from prepubescence to adulthood, he encounters three different young ladies who somehow impact his fledgling spiritual formation. With each girl he discovers some new and different aspect about God that sets him on mission for self-discovery and fulfillment. Although this may sound like the typical coming-of-age novel, the plot is bent on maintaining the gritty realism of prepubescence while attempting not to coddle or rationalize poor decisions and bad behavior. Christopher weaves a genuinely realistic tale of faith mixed with lifelike characters, worshipful imagery, glimpses of the Devil, and visions of the Divine without sacrificing the honesty of the hard truths and lessons of life.
#2 Lifelike Characters
One the main elements that makes a story real is if the characters develop in natural way, which is what annoys me about much of contemporary literature, secular or otherwise. Why should we care about a character if there is either nothing much to change or if the character hasn’t a bit of redeeming qualities whatsoever? There are many books in which I honestly hoped that such-and-such character would just be swallowed up by the earth because they were either too good or too bad (I fully acknowledge the wickedness of this thought). In Christopher, many of characters are likable and yet mysteriously flawed. As you read, you desire to understand what motivated them to do a particular set of actions. Just when you think you got one character pegged they do something subtly and yet naturally unexpected. In other words, the characters are wonderfully human, which is refreshingly odd for contemporary Christian fiction.
#3 Worshipful Imagery
In addition to excellent character development, the exquisite and intricate descriptions of Christopher‘s world is certainly a delight to read. The setting is particularly breathtaking. It is centered around the northeast corner of Minnesota near Duluth, which is on the shore of Lake Superior. David Athey’s familiarity of the native landscape is certainly brought to the forefront. The idyllic imagery brings forth the whimsy and wonder of God’s creation in full detail. Christopher is a celebration of God’s creation with all the emphasis on beauty, glory, and grace.
#4 Glimpses of the Devil
Unlike the many modern Judeo-Christian novels, Christopher is a honest portrayal of a teenager who has questions in which answers are hard to find and even harder to accept. The story starts around the age when Christopher can branch out from the beliefs of his upbringing and begin forming his own conclusions about life, love, and faith. None of these three main issues are in my opinion really well depicted in most contemporary Christian literature; however, David Athey manages to describe the contest between God and the Devil for the attention of our young people rather well. He manages not to gloss over the struggles of teenage development for the sake of propriety but addresses the issue directly and in no uncertain terms. The realism may make the more squeamish readers a little hot around the collar with the outright honesty of the hormonal battle between chastity and instant gratification; however, I do not believe that this is a fault, rather I firmly believe that the explicit acknowledgement of the main peril that teens grapple with is what sets this book apart from the rest. Quite simply its acknowledgement of the devil using God’s great gift of sexuality against creation is something that Christian readers need to hear. Sometimes glimpses of the devil is all we need to flee to comforting arms of the Divine. With its heartbreaking realism, Christopher certainly will challenge you with its stark honesty that is uncharacteristic to the average contemporary Catholic novel (I recommend that only high school aged persons or older should read this book).
#5 Visions of the Divine
David Athey has managed to depict the twisted handiwork of the devil; however, that isn’t what makes my favorite part of the book (fortunately for my soul). What makes this story so outrageously beautiful is the constant presence of God in His Creation, His people, and His Sacraments. Throughout this book, God’s presence is certainly evident on every page. While at first this may sound like it would be a bit preachy to a non-Catholic, it is in truth not. God is presented in a different way than the average Christian novel. Instead of having the main character constantly talking about their certainty in “Buddy Jesus” without having an ounce of doubt, in Christopher God is present in spite of overwhelming trials. His presence is subtle and yet deeply moving. The book reminded me time again of what an amazing God we have who makes himself available to us in different ways throughout the stages in our lives. It reminded me of our Catholic belief that God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Christopher captivated my imagination with the visions of the Divine. Obviously, I highly recommend this book and encourage you all to check it out when you get the chance.
Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum!!
*Athey, David. Christopher. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2011 **If you don’t recall or if you haven’t read my thoughts on this Catholic community’s role, you can read my recent list entitled “The Crisis of Contemporary Catholic Culture: 4 Reasons Why You Should Care.“