Monday, June 2, 2008

Authors of Note

Having mentioned The Inklings in an earlier post, and bypassing the prolific and incisive GK Chesterton for the moment, I offer here a brief listing of contemporary writers whose Christian sensibilities are embedded in their work, and who exemplify literary excellence. In any discussion of what "Christian fiction" is about - and it is an elusive term - these are writers to consider (and I present them in no particular order).

Frederick Buechner (BEEK-ner) is a Presbyterian pastor whose lyrical work brings one to tears and laughter by turn. "Godric" and "Brendan" are historical novels I admire partly because of their ambivalent (and very earthy) treatment of saints, besides the gorgeous prose. His heartbreaking memoirs are even better (especially when he chronicles the struggles of his anorexic daughter). His books built around alphabetical lists of Biblical characters and religious cliches are hilarious and moving at the same time, and serve to make the faith strikingly relevant, especially for cultured unbelievers. He himself hovers at the edge of doubt continually.

Kathleen Norris is a writer like Buechner, a Methodist whose strongest work is in memoir. "Dakota: A Spiritual Geography" is a beautiful work, and her account of coming to genuine faith in "Cloister Walk" is memorable. "Amazing Grace" is similar to Buechner's alphabet books, whereby she takes common religious terms and expounds upon them in a way that makes them new. Her work consistently ends up on the NY Times Bestseller List.

Susan Howatch's Church of England series is exquisite in its stylish exploration of our deepest motives, following a set of smart characters from the 1930s through the end of the 20th Century. Howatch cut her teeth on vast family sagas with a gothic edge. Her latest series, set in the present around the Healing Centre of St Benet's in London, is a gripping and layered portrayal of deeply flawed yet empathetic people groping through the fog of sex-and-power secularism toward genuine meaning in life. It's not everyone who can portray a male prostitute protagonist with such force and psychological insight.

Michael O'Brian's apocalyptic novel "Father Elijah" is part of a brilliant series that is theologically astute and beautifully written. Don't let the 'apocalyptic' part throw you; this is no cheesy "Left Behind" melodrama. O'Brian also paints and does jewelry work, and this artistry shows in the well-wrought prose.

Well, that'll do for now. I must admit that when I read people like this I throw up my hands in despair and say, "I could never write like this - why bother?" But I am encouraged at the same time, to know that there are men and women of faith who bring their worldview to bear on their art, making it both true and beautiful.

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