The troubled wife of a renowned theologian finds her own path toward faith in Lively’s (A Walk with God through Forgiveness, 2005, etc.) first novel.
This tale follows a high-profile couple as their interpersonal conflicts take on vast spiritual and political implications. Chuck Love is a celebrated Texas preacher who’s grown wealthy and well-connected from his hit television show and books. His wife, Jan, is a recovering alcoholic who’s miserable in her marriage but unable to imagine living without her husband’s fortune. After Jan meets a mysterious stranger on the banks of the Rio Grande, she goes on a perilous trek to a fabled holy spot across the Mexican border, known as “The Thin Place” for its supposed proximity to the spiritual world. There, it’s rumored, the spirit of the 16th-century visionary Juan Diego leads pilgrims to communicate with Our Lady of Guadalupe herself. Jan’s husband, meanwhile, has been tapped to serve as the conservative U.S. president’s first secretary for national spirituality. Naturally, Chuck’s appointment comes with some morally questionable strings attached; in particular, the president’s men are eager to ensure that Jan doesn’t prove to be a loose cannon. As Chuck puts it, “the future of our nation may actually depend on having Jan back in Dallas, sober…and most of all sane.” The story zips along from there, hitting lots of familiar notes along the way, including evil bureaucrats, brushes with mortal peril, and quirky rural folk who just might know better than bigwigs. The story beats are predictable, as are the characters’ convenient changes of heart. Lively’s stilted dialogue also keeps the people from coming fully alive: “Oh, I want to be transformed,” says Jan. “Tell me, what must I do to make that happen?” But although the plot and characters are simplistic, the author’s balanced perspective on Christian theology is more nuanced. For example, the contrast between Chuck’s glittery, populist preaching and the meditative seeking of Jan’s spiritual guide, Royal, brings up intriguing questions about religion’s purposes and pitfalls. Lively carefully avoids supplying answers; indeed, the book’s startlingly abrupt conclusion leaves plenty of threads dangling for a potential sequel.
A somewhat contrived tale buoyed by unusual spiritual sophistication.