by Randy Alcorn
What’s worse than being in a car accident that kills your two best friends? Finding out that it wasn’t an accident…
So this is supposedly a thriller, but really ended up being more about one man’s journey from skeptic to believer in the Christian faith, with some random murder/investigative action thrown in. Parts of this story I really enjoyed, but I felt like the actual ‘thriller’ part wasn’t a natural part of the rest of the tale.
Jake is a newspaper columnist for a big newspaper in Seattle. (He’s syndicated, now, so his column is actually read across the country a couple times a week.) Fifty years old, divorced, a Seahawks fan, Jake seems like a typical middle-aged guy. His two best friends, Doc and Finney, have been his best friends since childhood. They graduated high school together, fought in Vietnam together, got married at the same time, have kids the same age – despite the different directions their lives have taken on a personal level, they have managed to stay close through all these years.
Doc is a successful and wealthy surgeon. An atheist and a philanderer, Doc’s moral compass seems to point at whatever he feels is right at the time. Finney, on the other hand, became a Christian in his 20′s, and has been walking the straight and narrow ever since. Jake, as he has his whole life, tries to find the middle ground between the two. While he agrees with Doc objectively, he often finds himself disagreeing with Doc’s personal life. However, he can’t understand why Finney is so insistent on this idea of Truth. A social liberal, Jake frequently debates with Finney on topics like abortion, extramarital sex, and homosexual marriage.
Everything changes one Sunday afternoon when the three go to pick up pizza at halftime. They’ve been watching the football game like they do every Sunday, with their wives hanging out in the other room (even though they’ve been divorced three years, Jake’s ex-wife Janet still comes by most Sundays to spend with “the girls”), and head out to get the pizza. Doc’s car goes out of control and lands all three of them in intensive care. Spoiler alert: two of the three don’t make it.
Alcorn’s story touches on every social hot-topic you can think of: abortion, extramarital sex, homosexual marriage – those are just the beginning. The existence of heaven and hell, racial quotas, racism in general, feminism, sex ed in schools, whether teens need parental consent to get an abortion, charter schools, and loads more that I probably can’t remember right now. Alcorn isn’t afraid to tackle these topics head-on, through letters Finney wrote before he died, interviews Jake has with people, and articles Jake is writing himself for his columns. When Jake finds out that the accident wasn’t accidental, he begins a quest to find out who could have done this dire deed. Because it was Doc’s car that was sabotaged, he looks to find any potential enemies of Doc, and he immediately begins to wonder whether it was those crazy anti-abortionists. This leads to lots of conversations with the pro-lifers.
Through it all, Jake is also having lots of other personal issues with his family. When he finds out his teenage daughter is pregnant and was on the verge of committing suicide, Jake is forced to face whether his views on assisted suicide, abortion, and “free sex” really work out in the long run of the real world.
Alcorn has a lot of thought-provoking things to say on sensitive topics, and, overall, I feel like he works them into the story fairly well, although at times it feels like a bit much. I think this story would have really benefited from a narrower set of topics to tackle, because, in the end, the book comes off rather preachy, and the “thriller” part feels rather forced. Someone like me, who agrees with most of Alcorn’s views might finish the book, but I think that the audience of social liberals that Alcorn hopes will read his books will be turned off by the rather aggressive campaign.
I do love a lot of his descriptive language, though -
In the newspaper business, ideas were perishables … if not served up today, they’d be stored in the front of the refrigerator, then crowded toward the back, and finally – neglected until too old to recognize and too rancid to digest – unceremoniously tossed in the trash.
Alcorn hits abortion particularly hard. I don’t usually get too “political” on this blog, but I am unabashedly pro-life, and will gladly have a conversation defending that point of view any time someone wants to take it on. At one point, Finney’s widow, Sue, runs into a liberal senator (long story) and, before the Senator knows it, he’s embroiled in a conversation on abortion. Fancying himself to be a real “women’s rights advocate,” he pompously reels off his usual litany, which Sue uses right back at him.
“For instance, I’ve heard you say you want abortion to be rare, that abortion is a heart-wrenching decision. My question is, why? What’s wrong with abortion?”
The senator looked surprised, as though he’d never been asked that question. ”Well, it’s…it’s not a pleasant thing, and it’s a difficult decision for a woman to make.”
“What’s so unpleasant about it, Senator? If it’s just a blob of tissue, like a cancer or something, a woman should be glad to get rid o f it. Why is it such a difficult decision? I mean, if your appendix or a kidney stone or something is making your life miserable, you just have it removed, get rid of it. It’s not that difficult decision at all. Why is abortion different?”
I think that abortion advocates are often people who haven’t really thought through the logic of their decisions, and, really, that’s the heart of Alcorn’s book – constantly making decisions based on our own desires does not lead to good ends. There’s a particularly heart-tugging scene where Jake and Janet are talking with their daughter, Carly, who has decided not to abort her baby. Carly doesn’t know that Jake and Janet got an abortion when they were in college because they “weren’t ready,” and at one point Carly says, “No matter how much it messed up my college plans, my volleyball scholarship, and my life in general, I couldn’t go through with it. I started thinking, what if I had come along at a time that was inconvenient for my parents? Would I want them to kill me? I just couldn’t punish an innocent child for my stupid mistake.”
Wow. That scene just had such an impact, because, actually, if Carly had come at an inconvenient time, her parents would have killed her – they already killed her older brother or sister. That’s a real turning point for Jake, where he begins to realize how his beliefs have impacted so much.
The book talks a lot about the impact abortion has on men and on the whole concept of parenthood. Talking with a coworker (the only conservative in sight, and he’s in sports, where it doesn’t matter), Clarence is lamenting the lack of role models in his home neighborhood (Clarence is black and grew up in a poorer, crime-ridden part of town). He says something I found vitally important:
“Men are told when they get a woman pregnant it isn’t their baby, it’s just hers. They’re told they have no say in if they want the baby to live. Spousal consent is an offensive concept to abortion rights people. Men have no rights concerning the babies they’ve fathered. But, Jake, we all know rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. You can’t separate them. So, when we tell men they have no rights, we’re really telling them they have no responsibilities.
“How can we say, ‘You have no right whatsoever to stand up for the welfare of this child,’ then expect them to take any responsibility whatsoever for the child if the mother decides to let him live? You can’t have it both ways. Either the father has rights and responsibilities for child, or he has neither rights nor responsibilities for the child.
“So what do we get as a result of believing this abortion propaganda? A bunch of irresponsible men. They’ve been taught they’re not needed in the home, women and children can get along fine without them - better because the government gives them a paycheck as long as they don’t marry the father. So the men can go get a woman pregnant, then move on to the next woman and do the same thing, instead of settling down, getting a job, and supporting their family. If they decide they want to take responsibility, which is what they should want, they’re told it’s none of their business, it’s the woman’s baby, not theirs.”
This was an intense and emotional book, and one that I sincerely wish had a bit more story to go with it. I really think that Alcorn could have made a stronger impact by narrowing his focus and concentrating on keeping the story going. I grew really attached to Jake and watched his personal (and unwilling) journey, but the whole thing with Doc’s death and how it came about felt very contrived and as though Alcorn just needed an out to finish up the story.
If you’ve stuck with me to the end of this ridiculously long review, thanks. And I don’t usually get super personal on this blog, or super serious, but allow me to say that if you ever want to have a legitimate, honest, not-angry-or-accusatory conversation about abortion, just drop me a line.