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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Book Review: Jerry Jenkins "Riven"

I don’t have much time to read fiction, but while browsing the bookshelves I came across Jerry Jenkins’ novel, Riven. The cover intrigued me so I picked it up.

The name Jerry Jenkins just seems to pop up a lot in my life over the last decade. Like many, many others, I read the successive Left Behind novels with eager anticipation, both as a Christian and as a writer. Amazed at how God used those books, amazed to see how one plot idea sparked such a phenomenal response around the world.

However, I was also equally impacted by reading Mr. Jenkins’ Writing For The Soul. For his insights on writing and the business of writing, certainly. But more importantly, it had a profound impact upon me reading his anecdotes about Billy Graham and in particular, what he shared he’d learned from Billy Graham about praying without ceasing. Oh, I’d read that a million times in the Bible but couldn’t quite figure it out. But his recall of that conversation with Reverend Graham opened up new avenues in my prayer life that I am thankful for to this day. No, I’m not Billy Graham nor will I ever be, but it has helped me improve my communication with the Lord greatly.

Now I don’t know how Mr. Jenkins feels about it, but just these above things are tremendous accomplishments. A person could settle back and coast on those alone. But he has done it again with Riven.

I was profoundly impacted by it, as a reader and writer and Christian. This book is for you if:

You’ve been grieved seemingly to the point of death watching a loved one make one bad decision after the other, knowing full well they are capable of so much more.

Immediately as I started reading this novel, I had a poignant reminder of someone I love dearly who, while not facing the same kinds of trouble as one of the characters in this book, has still made poor choice after poor choice; left me thinking that surely, they could not make worse choices then proceed to prove me wrong; and then drag my heart across decades praying they will be delivered, despairing of a good outcome.

You come from a dysfunctional family.

And who doesn’t have some degree of dysfunction in their family these days? I think it’s even more prevalent because we’ve become such a godless nation, but even Christian families struggle with problems.

You despair of God’s ability to use you for His work.

Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time often struggles, wondering if they’re making an impact on those around them for the better. Occasionally you may be shown your impact, but a lot of times we don’t know till we reach heaven the nature and extent of our witness.

You feel you’ve done too much wrong for God to forgive you.

We’ve all been there. The question is whether we choose to believe what God says in His word about this.

You are a Christian. . .or you are not!

This book is perfectly designed for both believers and unbelievers. I think it interesting that, in reading Writing For The Soul, Mr. Jenkins says Reverend LaHaye told him the target market for the Left Behind series was both believers and unbelievers, but he himself didn’t believe it was possible or feasible to write a book geared toward both. But here, in Riven, he has done exactly that with phenomenal results.

This book was weighty. And lengthy. Perhaps could have been a wee bit shorter, and that’s not coming from one of the ADD crowd. 8-) However, I am so thoroughly joyful that I stuck it out. While I don’t have much time or desire to read a lot of fiction, what I like best are what I call meaty reads – books that give me a lot of food for thought. Books that make me think. Make me ask myself what I’d do in that situation. Books that keep me pondering, even when I have to put the book down to do other things. Books that leave me an improved person for having read it.

Mr. Jenkins accomplishes all these things with Riven. I laughed. I grieved. I got frustrated – as though the things in the story were happening directly to me. I found myself reading the book and trying to guess where it was going, but never dreamed of the twist at the end. And I was drained but very satisfied when I reached the end.

As a reader, it was powerful. As a writer it was an excellent teaching tool of the power a story can have to change lives. Lots of writers write for different reasons, and often, changing lives is part of that reasoning. It certainly motivates me.

I highly recommend this book. At 525 pages it’s not a short read, but well worth your time investment. I know I’ll be thinking about the story, characters, and the writing skill for some time to come.

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