f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 1 of Abide With Me – New York Can Publish Mediocre Fiction, Too.

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Day 1 of Abide With Me – New York Can Publish Mediocre Fiction, Too.

The march of CBA toward ABA and ABA toward CBA takes its next step with the publication of Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout. Why? Because now, not only is the ABA publishing fiction with Christian themes but it’s publishing fiction with Christian themes that aren’t reaching the high peaks of literary achievement. In other words, this isn’t Gilead or Godric. In my mind, it was less successful—in terms of literary quality and overall story—than the best general fiction emerging from CBA houses today.

I have no idea if this is progress or not. It is, however, a tangible example of just how hard it is to write successfully and fully in this sub-genre.

Abide With Me tells the story of Tyler Caskey, a young Congregational minister in Maine who is struggling with his calling, his congregation, and his family in the wake of his wife’s tragic death.

What’s interesting to note about the books coming from ABA dealing with Christian themes is that (among the more major releases) only Peace Like a River has avoided the use of a pastor as a vehicle for tackling these themes. Passion of Reverend Nash, Gilead, Abide With Me, Lying Awake, and Mariette in Ecstasy are among many that take place within the confines of the established church life. In other words, ABA seems bound by the conventions of organized religion, unable in some ways to speak of faith in an ordinary life.

I’m trying to make sense of this. The easiest assumption to make is that we still primarily see religion as a cultural institution not something that will literally impact an individual life. And so religion can’t be separated from its existence within that institution. Pastors and priests and rabbis are fine because they are definable part of that landscape. You can look at it much the way professors exist within academia. Certain discourse makes sense…but it’s not like the common man goes around worrying about Robert Browning’s imagery in “My Last Duchess.” Likewise, perhaps it’s impossible to think of the common man talking about faith outside of church.

I can’t imagine that this is an imposition ABA is forcing on authors…but rather it’s one by which authors do seem self-limited. We are all fighting, I suppose, the tricky problem of finding a narrative in which discussion of faith seems natural.

Any other thoughts on what might be occuring?

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Continue to Day 2 of our discussion of Abide With Me