Robinson (My Secrets Cry Aloud, 2012) tells the story of an unorthodox preacher’s effect on a small Southern town in this Christian novel.
The townspeople of Mercy, Kentucky, didn’t know what to make of Grayson Armstrong when the 28-year-old came to preach a trial sermon at New Hope Baptist Church. The search committee chairman’s impression was representative: “He saw the shoulder-length hair and the ill-fitting suit. Don’t look like any preacher I’ve ever seen, he thought. He looks like a little boy.” Twelve years later, Grayson’s unexpected death sends shock waves through Ignite Community Church, as New Hope Baptist became known under his leadership. The novel, as narrated by various members of Grayson’s congregation, explores the ways that the exceptional young preacher touched the lives of the people of Mercy—including the diner waitress who wasn’t a churchgoer when he moved to town; the Vietnam veteran whose PTSD causes people to avoid him; and even the congregants who disagreed with Grayson’s controversial views, such as that an American flag doesn’t belong in a house of worship. Grayson’s widow and children also speak their pieces, revealing the personal side of a man who was reviled by some and beloved by others. The portrait that emerges is not only that of a godly man, but also of the imperfect community of everyday Christians that he attempted to serve. Robinson’s prose is precise but malleable as she channels the voices of her many characters and reveals their fears and desires. “It didn’t help that living in Mercy was like living in a glass bowl,” reflects Tyler, Grayson’s gay teenage son, for example. “Everyone knew everyone else’s business, and of course they paid particular attention to ours.” Although Grayson’s Christ-like presentation limits his complexity, Robinson does an admirable job of exploring the varied personalities of other players as they grapple with their faith and other beliefs. Grayson is the name on every character’s lips, but he ultimately acts as a lens through which the reader can view each narrator. Overall, this novel asks many probing questions, using a light blend of mystery, tragedy, and reflection.
A thoughtful religious novel that mostly overcomes its somewhat-bland main character.