Back in August, I talked about how the story we write is more important than our writing style and even our message. That’s because a good tale gets a point across better than a good sermon. The reader (or hearer) doesn’t care about the finer points of the delivery if what’s being said captures the imagination.
This was confirmed, underlined, and highlighted for me last week as I read a book by an author I recently “met” on Twitter. I don’t recall how I came across his name or his writing, but something caught my eye, and I looked at his Amazon page. The title of one of his books joined forces with the cover image to shout, “Read me!” I read the blurb and the one review that had been posted. And this fish was hooked.
Not that I had nothing better to do, mind you. And I wasn’t exactly looking for something to read. But the story intrigued me. Being as cheap as Scrooge, I borrowed the book via Amazon Prime so I could read it for free (sorry, Eric). And since that only allows access to a book for two weeks, I bumped it up to the top of my reading list.
But I was glad I did.
Here are my thoughts on
The Crooked Man’s Mile
by J. Eric Laing
This is the kind of story you think about long after you’ve put it down. The sort of book you can hardly wait to get back to. When I finished it, I was sorry it was over but delighted with the way it wrapped up.
The characters vibrate with three-dimensional realism. When you meet them you say, “Hey, I know that guy!” or, “Oh, yeah, I remember her from grade school.” Even the minor characters are multi-dimensional and have believable motives; there’s not a cardboard cut-out in the bunch.
The descriptions are so clear you have no trouble envisioning the scenes. The story has such depth and resonance you have to keep reminding yourself it’s fiction.
Speaking of resonance, take the title, which sublimely suggests a combination of the child’s nursery rhyme and the traditional prayer about not judging another until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. The man in the story is crooked in body and soul, but by walking in his shoes, the reader becomes a bit less critical of people who don’t fit the accepted standard of “normal.” All this flows easily and comfortably, worming its way into the heart without grating or sermonizing.
But here’s the thing: when I first began reading, I wanted to get out my critiquer’s pen and start slicing and dicing. Technically speaking, according to all the things we’re taught about what’s good writing and what we should avoid, this is not a particularly well-written book. There are many difficulties, ranging from wordiness, too much “telling” at the beginning to misuse of words and minor spelling and grammatical errors, and bouncing around from one time frame to another with dizzying distraction.
However. I hadn’t gotten very far into this story before all those things fell by the wayside, much as you’d shed that jacket you needed in the morning but no longer want as the day grows warm. As a writer, I still noticed the issues, but they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.
That was the essence of my review I posted on Amazon. But there’s more on my mind that I didn’t say there because it’s not relevant except in the world I move in (Christian fiction):
No one could call this story Christian fiction. But God, Christianity, and the church receive more than passing mention; and when these things appear, they’re portrayed with great honesty. You’ll find no gospel message here, but there are poignant examples of love, forgiveness, and redemption. The author makes no attempt to persuade the reader to consider the truth of God; however, his realistic portrayal of life confirms the truth of God, even though he makes no mention of it. No reader would find himself drawn to the gospel of Christ through reading it. In that—and only in that—I found the story lacking. But at the same time, I’m inspired.
This author portrays the world honestly, neither whitewashing nor befouling the images. I’ve learned a lot over the years about the craft of writing, and I shouldn’t be lazy about employing the things I’ve been taught. But more important than skillful technique, as this book showed me, is the story itself.
J. Eric Laing could teach us all a thing or two about telling a story clearly, honestly, and with unfeigned love.