Jack’s debut novel tells the story of a girl traveling across North America in the midst of a crisis of faith.
Carrie Marie has had a tough go of it. Her mother died the summer before she started high school, and she bitterly blamed God for the loss and turned her back on her faith, despite her kindly Aunt Maggie’s attempts at reassurance. In high school, Carrie began dating the alienated Dustin, but now, in college, he’s become increasingly abusive. As finals approach, Carrie is having nightmares about being murdered at a highway crossroads—possibly by Dustin. She decides that she must finally put a long-held plan into action: “As it happens, Carrie Marie drives from Jacksonville to Los Angeles, becomes a high-profile lawyer, and gets rich, famous, happy, loved, and secure,” Carrie imagines. “As it happens, it only takes three days.” Getting from Florida to California so quickly with no plan is quite a task, especially for someone who lacks faith. However, it turns out that she’s about to embark on her own version of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress—a 17th-century work that documented one man’s allegorical journey to the “Celestial City.” Her own journey, fraught with obstacles and setbacks, will forever shift her beliefs—for better or worse. Jack does a remarkable job of turning the familiar landscape of the United States into a spiritual realm where an extended allegory can convincingly play out. The people that Carrie meets frequently relate biblical parables; at one point, she meets a man named Mr. Job who tells her about his life of suitably Job-like trials. The author doesn’t have a very smooth prose style, though, and some moments come across as silly: “Carrie had moved to gothic punk and rebellious….Carrie looked frightening when you added her I-don’t-give-a-hoot attitude to her dark looks.” The plot isn’t terribly believable, either, with its unlikely coincidences and character names—but because this is an allegory, readers may forgive these elements. Christian readers will most likely appreciate Jack’s morality tale, but the more secularly inclined should probably continue on their own journey.
An imaginative but unevenly executed homage to The Pilgrim’s Progress.