Review of William Young’s "The Shack"May 1, 2008
This is a reprint of a review that I did on Goodreads about this book. What started out as a minor sensation has evolved into a Christian Bestseller. I also welcome the comments of others who have read it and want to make their views known here.
So many of my friends have recommended this book that I knew I would read it and feel strongly about it. That’s an understatement. (btw….there are no Spoilers in this review).
Before I began reading, I wanted so much to like this book. Partly because I respected the friends who recommended it and partly because this is the author’s first book. As some of you know, I personally believe that most authors have one great book in them and it is often their first (see Tracy Chevalier and J. K. Rowling). That is why I was somewhat disappointed with my reading of the first few chapters. . He overwrites like an inexperienced author. Specifically, he uses too many deliberate similes and altogether too many adjectives. In fact, on the same page he uses three different similes to describe the wind. Can it really be a food group and a sigh at the same time? I digress.
He also gets “cutsie” with his description of the main character Mack. The author needs to choose a voice to speak from. The third person omnipotent is not working for him. If you’re not familiar with that POV, it is the tendency to describe what every character is thinking. Usually writers choose third person specific, meaning they know the thoughts of only one person. But later the author figures this out and sticks with the main character and lets him discover the story as it happens. So, I guess my main criticism is that the author is not a tremendously skilled writer.
Therefore, a quarter of the way through the book I was ready to be done with it. Then I was delightfully surprised by what happened next. It seems he did an about-face as soon as he came to the heart of the story. After the tragedy that forms the spine of the tale, he tightens up the writing and I never noticed the shortcomings after that. It is like the author himself really just wanted to get to this point in the story and realized the book wouldn’t make sense and would be too short without the introductory part. So be it. From this point on, I was enthralled. His meeting with God and the subsequent discoveries of God’s character and the meaning of the events he has recently lived are gripping in their poignancy. At one point near the end I actually was in tears. It may be 20 years back to the last time a book brought me to tears. I ended the book totally satisfied.
The reader should note that this book is not a theological work. It falls into the same category as Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” in its theological importance. The point of “The Shack” is the reconciliation of the main character with God. It is not a book about Goddess worship, hierarchy within the Trinity, or the personification of Wisdom as a fourth member of the Godhead. Many have criticized Young for these, but in so doing they miss the point of the story. This is a personal encounter between God and one man. It is not supposed to represent every man.
Allow me to take one or two more liberties in criticizing a book I really enjoyed. As much as I appreciated the folksy presentation of God in this story, there are parts that don’t work. Holy Spirit still feels ethereal and standoffish. Wisdom’s speeches are canned and the meals they eat together get repetitive and slow the story down. Major editing could have made this one of the great new books of Christianity. He could easily have left the Afterward on the shelf and not missed it at all. Because of these things, I doubt anyone outside Christianity will read past the first few chapters. That’s a pity, but it is true. It is not written well enough and there are still too many obviously contrived parts to the plot to make it seem real to someone who is bent on criticizing Christian writers.
Some of my friends who love this book will really be annoyed that I am being over-analytical. But that is what a proper book review is about. These things need to be said in order to balance the attitude which says we must exalt anything with a good message. This is a phenomenal message hiding in a slightly below average package.