Thursday, January 24, 2008

Velma Still Cooks

A few months ago, our book club heard Lauren Winner speak at RTS on her book, Real Sex. She mentioned how ashamed she was that she had not included anything about sexual violence in the book and would redress that omission if there was ever a future edition. She cited Velma Still Cooks in Leeway by Vinita Hampton Wright, a Christian ficiton novel with a storyline of rape and abuse within the church. She called Wright one of "our" best Christian novelists. I was curious enough so I suggested we read it for the next book club meeting.

Now, generally speaking I do not read Christian fiction (at least not anymore)and I'm kinda proud of the fact that our book club of intelligent, insightful Christian women has not read any Christian fiction until this novel. I glance through the flyers from the Christian bookstore and I'm generally disgusted by the plot summaries. Yes, I did read just about every Janette Oke book as a kid (my mom worked at the church office for my middle school years so I read just about everything appropriate and interesting in the church library). I read the Mitford novels the summer I was pregnant with Rebekah, partly because I was bored and partly because Lauren Winner mentioned them in Girl Meets God. I did not really like them. And I'm beginning to wonder about Winner's taste in fiction.

Velma Still Cooks in Leeway does concern, in part, the rape of Shelleye by a high school friend during a date. The boy and his well-respected family are members of her church as well. Little is done about the rape by the church's pastor or board of elders and the girl, now pregnant, initially leaves the church. But the thrust of the novel really is about Velma and her relationship to the town she cooks for at her diner. There are several (too many, I think) additional storylines that Velma comments on since she seems to be connected to everyone through either her restaurant or her janitorial work at Jerusalem Baptist Church, both occupations condusive to eavesdropping or at least knowing all the news of the town. Maybe the discrepancy between what I thought the novel would be about and what it actually was contributed to my disappointment. I commend Wright for tackling a tough subject but I wish more of the novel would have focused on the Shelley and the boy who raped her. There is a much tighter and better-written novel within the one I read.

Reading Velma has highlighted my general disgust for things with the adjective "Christian" in front of it. I thought the same things while watching Facing the Giants. Apart from poor cinematography and editing and acting (I know they didn't have a Hollywood budget) the script was blah! (I can't think of the word I want that is not too mean.) Why does "Christian" fiction have to be so trite, so poorly written, so cheesy? And what does a writer (of fiction), who is a Christian, write about so that his or her work does not come out so cheesy? Is anyone producing contemporary fiction that is good? The Christian life is anything but trite and cheesy; why does it come out like that? Or is it just me?


patti said...

Oh aint you!
I too read all the Janette Oke books. As a pre teen they were fascinating. As an adult, they are flat and formulaic. I wonder if the whole issue of "christian" literature lies somewhat with the authors' desire to touch on anything that doesnt end up nicely in a bow, OR the fact that much of real life is so seedy that it isnt 'fit for public conversation'. Sorry, real life is organic and messy and icky...
Love your book review. You are sooo well spoken and written girl!

Leslie said...

ugh! Let me just echo that. Christian lit . . . no. I have yet to see it done well and really, what's the point? Lit is lit. Sandy speaks of redeeming literature. I think well read individuals can sense if a book is shallow, untruthful, or unreal. Regardless of whether you're a Christian writer or reader, the laws of God still apply. The human condition is the human condition. Literature is a reflection of life and as such it embodies the good, the bad, and the ugly. Write a book that's real and don't put a label on it.

Goes On Runs said...

one thought... anne lamont.